Dreaming again of a downtown grocery store


Cleveland recently opened its first downtown supermarket in modern times courtesy of the regional Heinen's chain. The two most remarkable aspects of the new store are that 1) Heinen's is a suburban grocery operator with 21 other stores in northeastern Ohio and the Chicago area and 2) the company spent $10 million of its own money to renovate the 100-year-old Cleveland Trust Rotunda building.

Supporters of Cleveland's urban renaissance are still pinching themselves over the transformation.

"We have become so accustomed to stepping into unattractive and cheaply built big box stores that the idea of shopping as anything other than drudgery has all but vanished," Erin O'Brien writes in Freshwater, Soapbox's sister publication in Cleveland. "They want our money; we need their stuff. Transaction complete.

"Not so at the new Heinen's. This family is glad you're here. These people respect you before you've spent a single dime. They know you are worthy of this beautiful space and so is their grocery business. After all, they spent $10 million to deliver it unto Cleveland in all of its stunning glory."

Next City ran a national story last week about the gamble the family-owned Heinen's organization took to open a downtown store and, given the family's deep roots in Cleveland, why the company's leaders thought the risk was justified.

"The conventional wisdom is that a grocery store needs 20, 25,000 people to be feasible," co-owner Jeff Heinen says to Next City. "There are about 13,000 people in this core area of Cleveland right now. Because there are not enough residents living in that area (to meet that standard minimum), we needed to design a store that appeals to a variety of needs. ...

"We might actually get to 20,000 people, but that's a bet. And not one you can say, 'Oh, this should only take 12 more months. We're talking about four or five more years.' ... From our perspective, hoping to continue the momentum of both people and businesses wanting to be downtown is important to us as a Cleveland company who needs Cleveland to be a viable city going forward."

A hometown grocery chain known for suburban stores opening a signature downtown supermarket in a major Ohio city, investing its own money to help support and boost the urban core's redevelopment with an eye toward long-term success for the city? What a concept!

Cincinnati can continue to dream, of course.

Read the Freshwater Cleveland story here and the Next City story here.
 

Read more articles by John Fox.

John Fox is an experienced freelance writer and editor who served as managing editor of Soapbox from December 2014 to August 2016.
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