By Lethbridge Herald on July 11, 2018.
As downtown population density increases, so too does the demand for more grocery options in the downtown core.
With no full-service grocery stores in easy walking distance, Lorna Brown, a senior who lives in a Scenic Drive condo facility, says it makes it challenging for downtown dwellers like her to eat healthy and obtain fresh fruits and vegetables and meats.
“Not only are we seniors inconvenienced,” she says, “but there are a lot of people who can’t drive. And there are a lot of people in this general area that don’t have a nearby grocery store they can go to. The closest grocery store would be to go over the bridge on 9th Street, and around the corner to the Save On Foods. And the other one is London Road Market. That is quite a decent grocery store, but it is a little far. I found my arms have grown three inches longer from having to bring my groceries back from there.”
Brown has been trying to get some attention for this downtown food problem for some time through a letter-writing campaign to elected officials and others who might have some answers to the problem, but has had limited success.
“There is a lot of people who live downtown who don’t drive, don’t have a car and wouldn’t have a place to park one if they did,” says Brown. “They still have to have a place to shop.”
Andrew Malcolm, City of Lethbridge Downtown Revitalization Manager, acknowledges the relative lack of readily available groceries in the downtown area, but he points to several small stores which do collectively provide some options.
“Umami (Shop Canada) has some groceries — although they are not a general grocer,” Malcolm says. “We have also had the Shoppers Drug Mart in Park Place Mall add a grocery section to their operation to fill a need in the downtown. They don’t have fresh fruit, but they do provide a lot of things somebody may need to run over and pick up. We also have the Save On Foods located just on the northside on 2nd Avenue. And we have the London Road Market not too far from the downtown either.”
The Urban Grocer is another potential option to fill some of that void, but Malcolm says while the City is not offering direct incentives to potential grocers, it is doing indirect things which may help to improve the case for one with private investors down the road. He points to the City’s Targeted Redevelopment Incentive and HOCHIP grant which are both aimed at bringing more population density to the downtown core and more businesses in general.
“With that increase of new units in the downtown,” says Malcolm, “we’ll see that population growing; which will hopefully drive demand and a business case for a private individual to bring a grocery store into the downtown.”
Mayor Chris Spearman also says he recognizes the need for a full-service grocery downtown, but admits the City’s power is limited to make that happen.
“Unless the City was to provide significant incentive, and it would be unlikely we would vote to subsidize a downtown grocery store, it’s up to these private interests to choose where they wish to locate,” says Spearman. “I know nobody has even approached us with the desire to locate a store downtown.”
Spearman mentions there have been several grocery stores downtown in the past which have closed down over the years for one reason or another. The last one, an IGA which used to be located where Casa is today, closed down in May 2009.
Limiting factors on a possible grocery store coming downtown include the need for a certain amount of population density, the right retail space and a large parking area, all of which Lethbridge does not have at the moment with the exception of the vacant Sears space at Park Place Shopping Centre.
Jarod Neithercut, Park Place Shopping Centre’s marketing manager, says his company (Primaris Management Inc.) is open to all possibilities, but it is all about what makes the best business case for that space.
“Filling that space is in the planning phase at this stage, and is in Leasings’ hands in Calgary,” he says.
However, Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge, feels it is unlikely the mall would be able attract a grocery store downtown.
“I would be very surprised to see a full-service grocery in the downtown anytime soon,” he states bluntly. “The bulk of the city’s population now is on the westside, if you look at the most recent census. And how many grocery stores do they have? Three if you include No Frills, right? And that’s for 40,000 people.”
Lewington suggests online grocery shopping from chains like Save On Foods or Superstore, which include home delivery, would probably be the best option for those with limited mobility wanting to buy groceries which can’t be found through other downtown, small-scale grocers.
While a full grocery store option downtown seems a no-go at the moment, Lewington admits there is some better traction with idea of a small indoor market or permanent farmers’ market potentially setting up downtown.
“Does a downtown, year-round market have some sort of appeal? It has some possibilities,” he admits, “but I have no one actively chasing that right now. It is something which has come up in conversation before, but as always it comes down to the right investors, the right operators and the right piece of real estate. Sometimes having those converge at the right point in time is challenging.”
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