Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is that all there is?: 7-11 vs. upscale convenience

The Washington Post reports ("7-Eleven is taking over Washington, one hot wing at a time") that 7-11 is on a tear in the Washington DC-area with plans to open more than 40 new stores.  The article states that increasingly, the company is selling ready-to-eat food.

That makes sense, given that the "food" that the store sells otherwise is paltry--a few feet of shelving devoted to overpriced canned goods, complemented by aisles of shelving devoted to snack foods and soda and other beverages, coffee, and usually one refrigerator with milk and other dairy products (I used to buy milk at our local 7-11, but after a few ownership changes, the price increased by more than 25% and I stopped).

There are examples of convenience stores doing a great deal more in terms of providing a wider variety and quality of food options, even 7-11, but not in the DC region.  I've written about this from time to time.

-- New high quality urban format Walgreens "pharmacy" in Chicago
-- Finally, the urban model for a healthy convenience store

Giant Eagle Supermarkets of Pittsburgh has a convenience store division called GetGo where they sell Giant-Eagle branded products as well, but like the various Kroger convenience store divisions, are more like traditional convenience stores.

Sheetz, WaWa, and Royal Farms (based in Baltimore) are well known for quick service food prepared to order, based on orders placed at touch screens.

Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News. Greg Parker at Parker’s Market on Drayton Street.

Best practice models for urban grocery-convenience stores.  Probably the best upscale "convenience store" I've even seen is the Parker's in the Savannah Historic District.

It's more like an urban market that happens to sell gas ("Ambitious, innovative leadership fuels Parker's success," Savannah Morning News).  But what's interesting about the store is that it is the only such upscale store within the chain of 36 stores.  They have the ability to differentiate and innovate, unlike a lot of companies.

Note that the second piece of mine cited above discusses a couple of concepts, Green Zebra of Portland, and Yummy Neighborhood Markets located in five communities in Greater Los Angeles--stores focused on home delivery--that are equally innovative.

Green Zebra is doing well enough to open a second store ("Green Zebra Grocery finds footing, plans to open second store," Portland Oregonian) after earlier plans to expand in the Woodstock neighborhood were nixed in response to regional health foods supermarket New Seasons announcing plans to open a store there. The first Green Zebra store, in the Kenton neighborhood, is now profitable.

According to the Portland Business Journal ("Strategies: Green Zebra Grocery shows its stripes"), the company plans to have 20 stores by 2020, including west coast cities beyond Portland.  The company sees their customers as buying "meals" as opposed to food.  From the article:
Sedlar launched Green Zebra to take advantage of two trends — demand for healthy and organic food and demand for convenience. ... 
Green Zebra strikes a balance. It isn't a conventional convenience store though Sedlar says customers treat it that way. Unlike New Seasons, where customers shop for groceries, Green Zebra customers shop for meals. In fact, they shop by the meal. It's common to see the same person come in several times a day. They're friends," she said.

Not surprising, deli items are the top two sellers, followed by bananas. Beer and wine are big drivers too, patterns that have driven changes to the company's product mix. The store strives to sell natural and organic items, with a goal of being GMO-free. Its shelves are stocked with products from 60 Northwest vendors, including Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Co.
Although some potential customers express concern about high prices.

Gas stations as places for innovative restaurant operations.  In any case, we don't see much of that kind of innovation around here, with the exception that high quality food service operations such as Fast Gourmet on 14th St. NW in DC or Seoul Food on University Boulevard in Wheaton are opening up in gas stations ("Gas station restaurants are becoming the next big thing in cuisine," Washington Post).

Ironically, 7-11 is owned by a Japanese company known for innovation in its stores in its home market.

Upscale independent groceries.  I have written about Glen's Garden Market in Dupont Circle.  I don't think it's really all that, but is impressive in how it ups margins by having a bar and a counter selling fresh foods. The counter is comparable to what Broad Branch Market offers in Chevy Chase DC--and is a model for what small neighborhood "grocery-convenience stores" could do.

Photo from Yelp.

In fact, I happened onto an independent grocery on 14th Street NW, Streets Market and Cafe, that I didn't know about, even though they opened in March 2014.

They also have a store in Arlington in the Lyon Park neighborhood across from Ft. Myer.

It's small, on the ground floor of a late model apartment building, with an attractive layout, with a prepared food area and some tables, plus upscale departments for cheeses and beer and wine, rounded out with produce, dairy, and nonperishables. The produce is competitively priced and seems of decent quality, while the other items are a bit pricey, albeit convenient.

According to the firm's website, they are looking to expand.

United Brothers Fruit Market, Astoria, QueensUnited Brothers Fruit Market in Astoria, Queens is open to the street, and markets its wares on the sidewalk.  

I argue that urban supermarkets could place their produce, flower, cafe and other food service operations in a similar manner and better connect to the street ("Urban Safeway Design Misses Mark," Washington Business Journal)

While Streets Market and Cafe doesn't fully meet my idealized design of how an urban grocery could reset vis a vis its place on the street and in a neighborhood (see the past blog entry, "Urban) Grocery Shopping") they are a big step forward.

Were I to win a big lottery payout, I'd gladly invest in both Green Zebra and Streets Market and Cafe.

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At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in Copenhagen we went to a 7-11 after partying late at night and it had local style hot food that was of a quality you never see in US 7-11's
if people demand the quality maybe they will react with it?

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, I've come to the position that foreign examples tend to not go over well within companies or outside of the same region.

Part of the problem is that 7-11 has a very particular way of looking at the market, mostly in terms of people using cars primarily.

Maybe if they would transfer the people running the company in Denmark?

2. the other problem, probably, is the kind of people who tend to be franchisees in the city. I only say this because of observing ownership changes at the 7-11 in my neighborhood. It seems as if the owners have changed at least two times in the last few years. They're definitely not the same kind of people who are running say Broad Branch Market.

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

7-11 is a Japanese company that is one of their primary super market chains. It has such a different view in Japan than here. And place in the market. I know that 7-11 was experimenting with new service design and branding and trying to push a more fresh food perspective on the U.S. But I'm not sure they've ended up implementing that strategy. I think the stores tend to be franchise owned and the owners weren't as thrilled with the idea. Here in NYC 7-11s expansion comes as it considered a supermarket and regulated by the state (with more lineant laws) while delis and bodegas are regulated by the city.


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