Grocery store war 2012: Weavers Way vs. The Fresh Market

Officials for Weavers Way Co-op this week acknowledged that a proposed Germantown Avenue grocery store could hurt sales at its Chestnut Hill location.

Bowman Properties, Ltd, plans on bringing The Fresh Market to the Hill to anchor a new mixed-use development at 8200 Germantown Ave., the former Magarity Ford dealership site. The project would also include room for some small retailers and a set of condominiums and town homes.

Glenn Bergman, general manager of Weavers Way, doesn’t think adding another food market to the area is a good idea and said he’d rather see something else at that location.

“Do we need a large market right in the middle of the Avenue when we just opened up a market and there’s the [Chestnut Hill] Farmer’s Market right across the street?” said Bergman.

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“An independently-owned bookstore or a movie theater would be a lot better and wouldn’t compete with anybody on the Avenue,” he said.

Bergman estimates The Fresh Market’s presence could potentially siphon away up to 30 percent of his business at 8424 Germantown Ave. That kind of drop-off wouldn’t force the location to shut down, but it would mean layoffs, he said.

“We’ll have to,” said Bergman. “Your sales drop 20 percent, your payroll has got to drop 20 percent.”

Bergman said he has relayed this message to Bowman’s Managing Partner Richard Snowden and Nauset Group principal Seth Shapiro, the project manager for the retail and residential project.


The glass is half full

Shapiro, who also heads Chestnut Hill’s Business Improvement District, doesn’t think Weavers Way, or any of the other specialty markets in the area, have anything to worry about.

In particular, Shapiro said the market will help establish Chestnut Hill as a “food destination”, which in turn will help every business owner on the Avenue.


The Fresh Market brand

North-Carolina-based The Fresh Market has over 100 locations, including operations in both Delaware and Montgomery counties. The stores “convey the atmosphere of an old-world European market,” according to the company’s web site.

“It’s sort of the offspring of DiBruno Bros. and Whole Foods,” said Shapiro.

Asked if he was concerned about competition, Shapiro said he wasn’t and that it’s clear his client wasn’t either.

Unprompted, Shapiro added, “Weavers Way knew that we were in talks with the market before they even purchased Caruso’s [Market].”


Weavers Way wanted the Magarity site

More than two years ago, Bergman said the board of Weavers Way decided that the Magarity site would be perfect for a new location. Weavers Way also has small stores in Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane.

Weavers Way even went as far as submitting a formal business plan for the site and making a bid, he said. Bowman Properties, however, was bidding at the same time and won out over Bergman and the Co-op’s board.


More than a grocery store

Shapiro said the existing car dealership structure will be demolished. The market will cover two-thirds of the first floor. Retail shops, to face Germantown Avenue, will occupy the rest of that space. Fourteen luxury condominiums – projected at 2,000 square-feet each – will sit atop the retail space and sell for an estimated $ 1 million each.

In addition nine townhouses – projected to be 2,500 square-feet each – will be built along the far end of the property along Shawnee Street. Those units are expected to sell for over a $1 million each. In this section of the development, the townhome units will only be built if there is a buyer  The developer sees these townhomes acting as a buffer between a large parking lot and Pastorius Park.


Good fit for the Ave.

Chestnut Hill’s retail recruiter Eileen Reilly, who primarily works to fill vacancies along Germantown Avenue, said she is “beyond thrilled” about the Bowman development.

“The pedestrian experience is so important for me selling Chestnut Hill and there was a speed bump in the 11-block walk. It was sort of a vacuum. It was almost blight,” said Reilly.

Reilly said that end of the Avenue was suffering as a result of the car dealership being there. Even filled, she said, the dealership discouraged foot-traffic.

“All the great retail that’s below Magarity and below Jenks School, they don’t get the magnet draw of the customer,” said Reilly.


Making it happen

Shapiro said construction could start sometime this year and hopes to have The Fresh Market open by late 2012 or early 2013.

Plans for the development call for some re-zoning. The lot is already zoned for residential and commercial use, but needs new designations. Those changes will need to be approved by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments before construction can start.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Design Review Committee will begin reviewing the Bowman project at its next meeting April 19.

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