Well, I just read an interesting story in the Express-News about a potential property swap between the city and SAISD. The city wants to swap the Friedich Air Conditioning Factory building, which now has very low occupancy and is a blight on east side development, for the current SAISD headquarters on Lavaca in the central downtown area. One of the possibilities for the use of the Lavaca facility is a downtown grocery store. Right now the closest grocery store to downtown is on West Commerce at Zarzamora on the west side and E Houston at N New Braunfels on the east side, each about 2 miles from downtown. Not that far by car, but part of the allure of living downtown is not having to use a car.
Some nay sayers don't believe that a grocery store would have enough business downtown. Part of the problem is the number of people who live there, about 15,000. A regular grocery store needs about 30,000 customers to make a go of it. So, I say, why does this have to be like all the other stores in town?
First off, it would probably make a lot of sense to do some marketing research. HEB does this all the time in their stores, in case you're wondering why they pull you aside to try food and fill out questionaires. I know they have a good marketing research department. Questionaires that ask about food preferences, income levels, amount of home cooking versus preprepared meals the population eats, whether they would prefer to cook if they had the option, preferred ways of bagging food to take home, how often they would be apt to shop there, how much money would they probably spend on a visit, how often would they shop and how many would be apt to use a car, versus public transport or walking. This would give them a place to start. Of course, it stands to reason that this store would be smaller than a normal store, it may need to have a large variety of food options, but just not stock as many of the same item as they would in stores outside of downtown.
If the city owned the Lavaca property, they could give HEB a break on the lease, until the store started turning a profit. This would be in the city's best interest, because it would make downtown more attractive to potential downtown dwellers. The HEB company would be the best option because they have a large operation that can buy in bulk and distribute merchandise throughout all the stores in town, they have a good marketing research department, they have done specialized projects before and Charles Butt, the CEO of the company, is also interested in making downtown a viable neighborhood.
So, if you live downtown, what kind of a grocery store would you like to have?