The Corner Store Returns

Market forces are reshaping the usual suburban format for many large-scale grocers.

"In the mid-1990s - just as the fortunes of cities began to shift - Whole Foods pioneered more urban formats, says Jim Voelzke, an principal with MV+A Architects of Bethesda. Whole Foods found an eager market - and Harris Teeter, Safeway, and Giant later followed with urban-format stores in the DC area, he says.

The region is not unusual, the architects say. Wherever the right conditions exist - good-quality urbanism and underserved markets - supermarket operators are now willing the break the old rules."

Thanks to Renee Brutvan

Full Story: Urban grocers proliferate



Missing authenticity

When large chain stores adopt traditional commercial store design (such as village design), it usually doesn't feel authentic. This is often because of the scale of the chain store in relation to a mom and pop enterprise, and because of the use of streamlined building materials and decor (often the same modern decor in every store.)

There are new "main street" style shopping centers here comprised mostly of chain stores like JCrew and Victoria's Secret, and to me, they really feel nothing like a main street which has more original architectural and decor features and local store owners who are from the community.

Tough Call

I agree that there can be significant problems with "authenticity" in these types of developments, but in some cases it may be better to sacrifice some authenticity to improve urban quality of life and encourage economic development. I am a planner in New Orleans, where developments are frequently opposed by the community (and planners) because they will not fit into the historic fabric of the city. I myself have often opposed new developments for that reason. We have a very rich architectural and cultural heritage that we want to protect very strongly. However, we still have a huge blight problem and need for basic services as a result of Katrina. Is it better to have no basic services and vacant properties or to have less authentic developments that offer jobs, remove blight, and provide needed services like grocery stores? This has forced us to reconsider where we should draw the line between preserving authenticity and allowing changes that can alleviate some of our problems. In many cases changes are still resisted and taken of the table, and often for good reason. But in other situations the community has realized the quality of life and economic benefits of allowing new, less authentic developments that are still somewhat context sensitive.

This design is preferable

I do think these designs are an improvement, and preferred to conventional non-walkable big box designs. I was saying that compared to the real deal, they are often lacking as imitations.

I think that the smaller scale and architecture of traditional villages is preferable, as are the quality natural building materials- such as real brick and stone- that they are built with (as opposed to modern lines and concrete paver facades- I see too many of those.)

It would also be great to see more effort to create a localized atmosphere in some of these new buildings- feature local art, historical photographs etc, as opposed to having the same decor in every 1,000 plus stores the chain has across the country.

Finally, leveling the playing field for locally-owned businesses is important so you don't have a chain dominated economy.

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