Downtown continues quest for grocery store

Published: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

The weather was cold and rainy, and turnout, while not horrible, wasn't up to last year's inaugural downtown housing tour.

Architect and downtown housing developer Anthony McDermid was clearly unhappy, but his discomfort was in response to a question that didn't surprise me at all: How do people downtown shop for groceries?

McDermid cringed, made a quick remark I won't repeat, and then let friend and fellow developer Judy Hatfield explain how downtown residents make do with a mix of local shops, a Homeland at NW 18 and Classen and a Walmart Supercenter at Belle Isle. A few other downtown residents in the group remained quiet, but by their faces it was evident they were just as peeved as McDermid the question even exists.

And now we add another source of agitation, the decision by OSU-OKC to relocate the annual downtown farmers' market to NW 63 and WesternAvenue. Some readers are wondering whether this loss is another nail in the coffin on attempts to ever get a grocery store into the heart of downtown.

Let's evaluate the facts. City leaders this week are in Las Vegas attending the International Council of Shopping Centers conference. They are attempting to lure retailers and hotel developers to Oklahoma City, but not one person I've spoken to thinks they've got a shot anytime soon at luring a Whole Foods or HEB Central Market to downtown Oklahoma City.

But as always, the whole game has rested with rooftops, and now the economy.

As late as December, however, at least one, maybe two grocers were looking at planting their flags downtown.

Even in bigger cities this is a major task. Dallas provided subsidies for a few years to help keep an Urban Market alive in its downtown before it finally took root. Don't be surprised that if a deal does come to downtown Oklahoma City it, too, might need a similar partnership.

The farmers' market might not be the best indicator of whether downtown is ready.

The hours weren't the greatest, and the operation required closing the few parking spaces that surrounded the location at Couch Drive/Kerr Park.

Could it work at NW 5 and Broadway at the end of a work day with ample parking? Maybe someday we'll find out.

For now, maybe the best way to gauge whether downtown is ready for its own grocery store will be by monitoring the success of smaller ventures such as Sage in Deep Deuce, Market C on NW 23, and Brown's Bakery and Prairie Thunder Baking Co. in MidTown

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