There is probably not a day that goes by in downtown Easton when at least a few of the pedestrians that pass the now abandoned Safeway on Harrison Street don’t shed a tear for that missing food store. While a few might have some affection for the food store chain itself, it is more than likely that much of the grief is felt for the end of an era when walking or biking to a grocery store was an real option.
Since Safeway’s departure, a solid core of downtown residents now must now pile into their cars (if they have one) to head off to the larger food stores off the Bypass or Route 50, adding to Easton’s traffic pressures and rush hour congestion.
What makes this a particularly melancholy affair is the growing feeling that the old Safeway will not be occupied anytime soon with a replacement. In fact, it is more likely that no large food chain, even if permitted to locate there, would find it cost-effective to establish a such a small footprint venue.
This predicament is not unique to our community. With a return on investment in doubt and competition severe, these corporations are electing to drop their small stores and expand the number of “superstores” outside downtowns, allowing more parking and easy access for cars.
The result for Easton, sadly enough, is a substantial retail gap in our downtown district and, more importantly, quality of life.
But maybe it is not so wild a notion to imagine a return to a smaller scale, traditional grocery store (think of the beloved Todd’s on Aurora Street) capable of serving Easton’s growing pedestrian community and provide a modest profit.
The fact of the matter is that there are several models, in all different types of settings, that show that one does not need a 50,000 square-foot grocery chain store to succeed.
One remarkable example can be found on Race Street in downtown Cambridge. The Simmons Center Market has been serving its community since 1937 with marginal parking and a less than a convenient location for motorists. But with a regional reputation for quality meats and reasonable prices, the Central Market continues to strive notwithstanding its proximity to a Walmart Superstore and Food Lion chain store in the same town.
Looking beyond the Eastern Shore is the extraordinary story of the Bi-Rite grocery store in San Francisco, which provides no parking in a community without parking, and yet yields $4,000 per square foot. By contrast, traditional supermarket revenues are said to produce $200 to $300 per square foot while a Whole Foods store brings in $900 to $1,000 per square foot.
A four minute mini-documentary on Bi-Rite Market
It is with these kinds of case studies that should encourage one of our many local entrepreneurs (and their potential investors) to see a way forward to offer a similar experience for Easton’s downtown. We can only keep our fingers crossed that they do.