Ella and Max Piskun live in a loft on the eastern edge of downtown Spokane. One of the things that appealed to them about the city’s urban core was the chance to drive less and walk more – to shops and to restaurants.
They’d like to walk to grocery stores, too. But, because of price points and variety, they usually opt to shop for groceries at the Fred Meyer at South Thor Street.
“I feel Fred Meyer has a lot more options,” Ella Piskun said.
And, her husband said, “It has better deals.”
Plus, he said, “There’s nothing downtown.”
While there are some options for getting groceries in downtown Spokane, many residents who live in the city’s core say they would like to see more within walking distance. And, with several hundred new housing units slated for completion in the next 12 to 18 months, “Demand will be growing,” said Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, a nonprofit membership organization “dedicated to enhancing the quality and vitality” of the city center.
“We’ve got a ton of folks moving downtown and more on the way,” Richard said.
Agreeing with the Piskuns’ sentiment, he added, “For a modern, urban dweller, part of the reason you move downtown is so you don’t have to use your car.”
So, there is, he noted, “a gap in our market.
“We have grocery opportunities downtown. But I think we’re definitely in need of one that’s more centrally located. I also think you can serve some districts in downtown with pocket grocery stores” akin to the ABC stores in Hawaii, neighborhood bodegas in New York City, Bi-Rite markets in San Francisco or mom-and-pop shops – “like the Rocket Market on the South Hill.”
Another missing piece, he said: a farmers market in the downtown core. The Wednesday Night Market in Kendall Yards is in its third year. And the Spokane Farmers Market sets up shop on Fifth Avenue between Division Street and Browne Avenue on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But Richard would like to see something more centrally located.
“We would be more than excited to help somebody start a farmers market,” he said. “I think we are ripe for it.”
Chef Chad White agrees. He lives near his downtown ceviche restaurant, Zona Blanca, and said he, too, would like to see a farmers market right in the downtown core. Or, a Whole Foods. Maybe even a Target with groceries as well as household goods.
Both of those last two options were also recommended by Buxton, a Dallas-based customer analytics company which gathers transaction data to determine the purchasing habits and lifestyle trends for specific geographic areas. Earlier this year, the Downtown Spokane Partnership collaborated with other groups and Buxton to identify the 20 best retail matches for the growing downtown market.
Now that the nonprofit has that info, Richard said, the organization will be reaching out to those companies “and inviting conversation and providing them with the data and research” – and inquiring about their interest in locating in downtown Spokane.
But he’s also working with existing businesses. Richard has talked with the manager of the downtown Rite Aid about the possibility of carrying more fresh fruit and vegetables.
Does downtown need more grocery-shopping options? “Absolutely,” said White, who’s lived downtown for about a year and shops at the Rosauers in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood because “it’s closest to me.” He also sometimes stops at Huckleberry’s on the South Hill or Main Market Co-op. But, he said, “There should be a Trader Joe’s in downtown.
“There are a dozen buildings that are sitting vacant,” White said. “Downtown should be congested. Every storefront should be open for business. We need more groceries. We need more restaurants. What are they putting at the bottom of Macy’s? If they put in a grocery store, that would be huge.”
The former Macy’s building in downtown Spokane is transitioning into residential apartments with retail space on the first floor. The building is owned and being redeveloped by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review. There’s no word yet on what retailer or retailers might move into the building.
My Fresh Basket, the new grocery store in the Kendall Yards development, just north of the Monroe Street Bridge, will expand options for downtown dwellers when it opens in a couple of weeks. It will include a coffee bar featuring locally roasted Roast House coffee as well as grab-and-go items, a cafe area and “high-quality, value-conscious products that are procured locally when possible,” according to its website.
It joins a few other spots already in the vicinity. Several mini marts sprinkled throughout downtown sell mostly convenience or junk foods – chips, soda, candy bars. The Rite Aid on North Howard Street sells canned and frozen foods along with household items. And in Browne’s Addition, the historic neighborhood just west of downtown, there’s the Rosauers supermarket where White shops. Close to that store, on West Third Avenue, a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market sells discounted grocery items.
Farther away, on the lower South Hill, Huckleberry’s Natural Market sells natural, organic and often local or regional foods and supplements. On the east end of downtown, there’s Main Market Co-op, which opened in 2010 and specializes in local, sustainable – often organic – foods.
But, “If you want healthy, all-natural food, I don’t care where you’re going to buy it, you’re going to pay more for it,” Richard said.
Higher prices can be a deterrent for some downtown dwellers. “In bad weather, I’ll go to Main Market,” Ella Piskun said. But, she said, the young couple can’t afford to shop there on a regular basis. “They’re just more expensive,” her husband said.
He’d like to see a WinCo Foods store, or something like it, in the downtown core. “WinCo has everything,” he said. “And the prices are unbeatable.”
His wish list is three-fold: “something that’s reasonably priced, within walking distance and has a good, pleasant atmosphere” – like Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer or Yoke’s Fresh Market. The closest Yoke’s to downtown is on North Foothills Drive off of North Division Street. But, “It doesn’t cross our mind because it’s on Division,” Max Piskun said. “There’s too much traffic.”
He has high hopes for the forthcoming My Fresh Basket. “If the price point’s right, we’ll definitely go there.”
My Fresh Basket is within walking distance for residents of Kendall Yards, the western edge of downtown and parts of the West Central neighborhood.
“I think Main Market has the east end covered,” said Juliet Sinisterra, the business development manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
She’s hopeful a smaller, local grocer like Rocket Market moves into the downtown core and said she believes downtown could sustain “as many as four or five when everything’s built out. We’d love to support something like that. If anyone’s interested, get a hold of me.”
Downtown remains in transition. Even with the forthcoming residential units, Sinisterra isn’t certain there’s enough density to attract a larger retail store like Target or Whole Foods without retailers requiring space for large parking lots before going ahead with the projects.
“We want to encourage folks to look into grocery delivery” – both consumers and retailers, she said.
Rosauers recently launched an online-ordering and delivery site. The convenience comes with added cost. The introductory cost is $7.95 per delivery. If customers aren’t home during the two-hour delivery window, they’re charged another $5 for a return visit.
Shaun Chambers lives in a loft near his work. He would like “any normal grocery store in downtown in walking distance.” A year-round farmers market – like Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Wenatchee’s Pybus Market – “would be awesome.”
Something like that could already be in the works. The developer of the old Wonder Bread building just north of the Spokane River is repurposing the former bakery complex. Plans for the $12 million renovation project include a food court.
“They want to do an artisan food mart,” Richard said.
That idea is intriguing to bartender Simon Moorby, who moved downtown “to simplify things.” But instead, he said, “Grocery shopping has become a bit of an inconvenience.
“I live right in the heart of downtown, and there’s nothing,” he said. “It stinks. Macy’s would be a good, viable option at the street level.”
Meanwhile, he said, “I can’t wait for Kendall Yards.”
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