Friday, August 7, 2009

Can small grocery stores survive?

A new neighborhood oriented grocery store is set to open in Inman Park. According to Repeat Atlanta!, Savvy Urban Market is going to open on Elizabeth Street in the new development behind Fritti and Sotto Sotto.

I guess I'm a skeptic, but I really wonder if this sort of store can work. The Candler Park Market has made it work for years, but I'm not sure how good of a model it is. For one, the rent has to be a lot lower for an older building in Candler Park vs. a brand new building in Inman Park. McLendon gets a lot more traffic than Elizabeth, so the visibility for the new store shouldn't be fantastic. Obviously being on N. Highland would be preferable to just off it. They have also been around quite a while, and have some (mostly positive) brand equity.

Grocery stores tend to make money off high-volume, low margin items. Savvy Urban Market is aiming to go a more Whole Foods route, but I don't know that there is really enough demand in Inman Park alone for a whole store. In urban markets, neighborhood bodegas work because of the density, which clearly isn't the case here. Combine that with the success of the Whole Foods on Ponce (not to mention the Publix and Kroger also nearby), and I don't have high hopes for Savvy Urban Market. I'm also skeptical of places with names that try to sound to "hip".

Finally, this reminds me of the Superior Foods grocery store that used to be on N. Highland. They closed down in the early 90s I guess, but when I was growing up this was the only place we bought groceries. I'm not sure how many other options there were, of course. But my mother absolutely loved this place - the folks who worked there were super nice, and knew everyone in the neighborhood.

Superior Foods, Tim's Ice Cream and Fleeman's Pharmacy dominate my memory of 1980's/early 90's Virginia Highland. It was a great little community where everyone seemed to know each other. I don't actually have a memory of being inside Fleeman's, but I've heard about it so much it has become a legend in my mind. Tim's was where Highland Gifts for Men used to be (I can't remember what it is presently), next to Mitzi's Shoebox. He gave us $1 off ice cream every day as we walked home from school. Tim's was the best place in the world to a 10 year old.

My mother cried when Superior closed and was replaced with the CVS. In my mind, that is when Virginia Highlands began to change. Traffic got worse and the bars got packed.... I STILL think about Superior Food whenever I drive by that CVS, and I still get a little sad. I still have (and wear regularly ) a "25th anniversary" shirt from Superior Foods. Also, my dad will on occasion still refer to the Chevron at Virginia and North Highland as the "Jim Wallace," which was a locally-owned business. That gas station was a Jim Wallace maybe 20 years ago, and has since become first a Shell and then a Chevron. Nowadays, people still know each other, but it doesn't have the same small town feel. Correction: we still know tons of people who have been here since the 1980s, because we've all stayed.

Anyway, since Superior closed, there has only been one attempt at a neighborhood-oriented grocery store, the Harry's Farmer's Market/Harry's in a Hurry in what is now Urban Outfitters on Ponce. That obviously didn't succeed. I guess area incomes have gotten better since then.... but I'm still skeptical of how well something like Savvy Urban Market can do, especially in a out-of-site location.

*The above photos is by biskuit, via flickr. It is actually of the sign's present location on Peachtree Street in Buckhead behind the La Fonda/Fellini's.


  1. Used to have both Kroger and Superior Foods on Highland.

    "Two Sisters Market" hopes to open in Castleberry Point this fall. Castleberry Hill really needs it.

    Seems this sort of thing can so valuable to a neighborhood that developers might subsidize it in some way. The operators have to be special in every way. Quite a risk.

  2. The thing that might help Savvy Urban Market (eww, that name ruffled me just typing it) survive is the fact that it is in decent walking distance from the high-density condos and apartments on Highland, south of Elizabeth. I'm sure those folks would appreciate the chance to shop closer to home.

    I miss the Harry's in a Hurry locations on both Ponce and Peachtree in south Buckhead. My wife and I were living just a couple of bloclks away when Market One (what the Ponce Harry's became) closed down. We were both bummed.

    Terry -- how exciting about the Two Sisters Market. I hadn't heard about that. Castleberry Hill and the neighboring apartments that house so many students from teh nearby colleges, could really use something like that.

    I'm really biased towards these small stores, mostly for nostalgic reasons.

  3. I am opening up a local foods grocery store in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. I was gonna do it around Boulevard and Edgewood area, but they are getting a USDA grant to open it up.
    I think local stores are where our culture is shifting. Even the daunting thought of driving to a parking lot and walking into a mega store puts people off more these days.

  4. I looove the Candler Park Market!

    A close friend of mine is looking into opening a small grocery store in Old Fourth Ward; I sent her this post, thanks!

  5. It's not up in Atlanta, of course, but the old Kwik-Pick at the corner of Dogwood and North in Hapeville is apparently coming back, and they've hired the guy who used to be the butcher back in the 70s to run the butcher shop. Since this is a one-minute walk for us, my wife and I are very excited about having a grocery store in walking distance.


  6. Due to recession, it seems people are dumping organic for the general or less expensive organic stuff. Let's see what people are saying about much-hyped grocery stores, like Bristol Farms, Krogers, Vons, etc. From this we can get idea as to why they prefer to shop from cheaper grocery shops rather than these shops. For more details on these shops and some low end stores refer grocery stores


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