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Six new grocery stores propose to serve downtown Calgary populationWednesday, September 03, 2014 > 09:10:05
When Ryan Boley and his wife were picking an inner-city neighbourhood to move into four years ago, they could easily scratch a few off the list.
Bankview wouldn’t work. Nor would Sunalta, even with the west LRT then under construction.
“We looked around Bridgeland. Quickly ruled that out because there wasn’t really a grocery store anywhere near that,” said Boley.
The software developer, now 34, chose a tower in Victoria Park. He’ll take the car out on weekends to a larger market and stock up on staples, but several times a week he’ll take the six-minute stroll to Sunterra, to pick up a quick fresh dinner or that missing ingredient.
It used to be enough for condo developers in Calgary to tout the funky cafe down the block, with its stellar Cafe Americanos and fresh scones.
More and more, the ticket is to boast a nearby place where homeowners can get their bag of coffee beans, a multi-grain sourdough loaf and a roast chicken for tonight’s dinner, as well as ample leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
The Safeways and Co-ops in the city’s centre are no longer enough, either — not for the thousands of new downtown, Beltline and area residents that will be added in coming years.
Some downtown supermarkets appear more likely to go ahead than others. Near 17th Avenue and 8th Street S.W., there’s already a sign on the sidewalk promising the Beltline’s next supermarket: already announced by the developer as Urban Fare, a B.C.-based brand that specializes in fresh, organic and gourmet.
Sobeys intends to open in a major condo development across Macleod Trail from Erlton-Stampede Station, while the first major retail project in budding East Village has 100,000 square feet — more than double the size of Midtown Co-op — earmarked for Loblaws, the company behind Superstore and Joe Fresh.
Another came up for approval at Calgary Planning Commission last week: a two-storey, 60,000-square-foot grocer within a three-tower residential development on a former car dealership lot at downtown’s west edge.
The project’s consulting architect wouldn’t divulge which supermarket chains were in talks for the site, but said the appeal was clear.
“This one’s very close to the LRT. It’s very close to all the units that are in that end of town,” said Bruce McKenzie of NORR Architects. “He (the developer) has been in discussion with several urban grocers.”
The downtown area, Beltline and Mission districts have gained about 4,850 residents in the past four years, according to the city census. According to all the cranes, construction activity and development permit applications, thousands more are on their way.
It’s a different breed of grocery store that will next set up downtown. It won’t have the fields of adjacent surface parking area their farther-flung cousins do — nor like the Beltline’s Safeway and Co-op.
While companies measure a suburban supermarket’s potential reach in driving distances, these new markets will care more about foot traffic and a different type of shopper that will come by for small trips throughout the week, said retail analyst Jeff Doucette.
“It’s much more focused on fresh. Much more focused on what’s for dinner tonight versus a big cart-load of groceries,” he said. “It’s more basket shopping.”
The new downtown dweller — often young and professional — also has more disposable income, Doucette said.
“That premium clientele is there. They’re not just shopping for no-name staples. They’re willing to part with their dollars for quality.”
Sunterra, which opened beneath the Keynote office and condo towers in 2010, operates on that model. Shoppers can find ketchup and sandwich baggies, but can also choose from an array of gourmet olive oils and ready-to-eat roasted veggies. There’s ample seating in the front, a Market Bar upstairs and parking underground.
Boley said he’d like more nearby choices like Sunterra, and sees potential in Erlton’s proposed Sobeys.
That company has given up on its first inner-city experiment in Alberta. Its chic Sobeys Urban Fresh — with a sushi bar, Red Seal chefs and local beer service — heralded a rebirth of downtown Edmonton when it opened in 2008. It was closed in July along with other “underperforming” outlets.
The company, which acquired Safeway Canada last year, could not be reached for comment about its proposed Erlton site.
Doucette believes there wasn’t enough residential development around the downtown Edmonton Sobeys to keep it viable. Paul Denaeghel, a 20-year resident of Eau Claire, said the same problem hit Eau Claire Market’s original ambition as a grocery destination.
He and neighbours have long had to cross the river to shop at Kensington’s Safeway. But all the condo proposals for his community would bring its population to 5,000 from 1,800 — likely enough to support at least one of the Eau Claire grocery stores proposed within blocks of each other.
“In order for it to flourish, we need critical mass to support it,” said Denaeghel, president of the community association.
The numbers and urban affluence likely mean it’s only a matter of time before Whole Foods makes its long-awaited arrival on the Calgary scene, Doucette said.
But for the entry-level rental towers and the seniors’ complexes throughout the core, this urban supermarket renaissance won’t help much.
“Food’s already expensive as it is,” Doucette said. “There’s no affordable options coming to downtown Calgary. Loblaws isn’t opening a No Frills downtown.”
Nor are there clear proposals yet for supermarkets in Bridgeland or Inglewood/Ramsay, though both have recently become home to higher-end and smaller independent food stores.
Developers have proposed six new supermarkets in the core, from Erlton and East Village to a pair of grocery stores in long-underserved Eau Claire. If all of them went ahead — city officials are skeptical — it would double the number of inner-city supermarkets within a decade or so.
“In an ideal world, everyone can go to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker right by your house,” said Evan Woolley, councillor for the Beltline and west downtown.
“ ‘Green grocer,’ they all say. I’m really looking forward to having more of them, but it’s a cautious optimism, until they’re open. It’s how they’re selling stuff.”
He recalls the six-storey Treo condos in Marda Loop and the Sobeys signed up to go in there. To neighbours’ disappointment, they got a Shoppers Drug Mart instead.