2009-06-10

Green Thrift Grocery to Open in Athens

[NOTE: This was originally posted June 9, 2009 at My Athens, a new personal blog about Athens.]
By Dan Lorentz

Here’s a news story I’d like to read one day…

ATHENS, GA. (PDN*) — Green Thrift Grocers, Inc., a national franchise specializing in neighborhood grocery stores featuring locally grown produce at discount prices, today announced plans to open a small-format store here. Company officials said they had acquired a site for a 10,000 square foot store in Boulevard, a largely residential neighborhood just northwest of downtown.

Green Thrift Location
Future site of Green Thrift Grocery

Boosting walkability is part of mission

Green Thrift started in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1999 as a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing fresh, affordable produce into low-income urban neighborhoods not being served by larger grocery stores.

Since then, the mission has broadened—and so has the customer-base.

“We quickly realized that grocery stores don’t just help people get access to food,” explained Darrell Evans, Green Thrift’s founder and chief executive officer. “They can also spark economic activity, perk up property values, and create a more walkable, healthier neighborhood.”

Green Thrift still serves low-income neighborhoods with limited access to fresh foods. But now the organization—which has become a very profitable, for-profit corporation—seeks out what it calls “tipping point” neighborhoods to locate in.

In Green Thrift’s corporate parlance, “tipping point” neighborhoods are compact, well populated mixed income neighborhoods with a strong identity. Typically, they are also already fairly walkable, but require a full-service grocery store to make it possible for residents to take care of most of their daily needs without a car or other transportation.

Once such a neighborhood is identified, Green Thrift works with neighborhood residents, local investors and local farmers to gauge the interest in and the financial feasibility of opening a grocery franchise there. If local interest from residents, investors and farmers is sufficient, Green Thrift will move forward with the project.

“Low-income folks love what our stores bring into the neighborhood, but so do plenty of middle and upper income folks,” Evans said. “And more and more of them are looking for walkable neighborhoods to live in. They also don’t mind the lower prices for locally grown food.”

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Neither a Kroger’s nor a hippy co-op

Fresh, locally grown foods sold in season at low prices—that’s the message Green Thrift highlights in its advertising. But customers can also pick up a gallon of non-organic milk or bleach because the stores also offer much of what conventional grocery stores stock, including cheese and deli meats, dry groceries like pasta, spices, sugar bread and other baked goods, wine and beer, frozen foods, cleaning detergents and paper products.

To keep costs down, Green Thrift avoids fancy displays and like other grocery franchises, uses its buying power to leverage lower prices.

The store encourages walking by allowing customers to roll their grocery carts home and have them retrieved by the store. The carts have air-inflated tires and a simple suspension system so they are easy to push and steer in the store’s aisles and on sidewalks and streets.

On average, Green Thrift grocery stores are about 10,000 square feet. Many conventional supermarkets are at least 30,000 feet. More intimate feeling, the small-format Green Thrift stores often evokes memories among older customers of neighborhood groceries from the 1940s and 1950s.

Residents welcoming, says neighborhood leader

“For the most part, people living in the neighborhood are really excited about the Green Thrift store,” said Elliot Mattison, president of the Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, a group representing more than 250 neighborhood residents.

Daily Groceries Co-op, located near the Boulevard neighborhood, already provides residents with access to fresh, local produce. But because the store is not a full-service grocery and is located just outside of the neighborhoods boundaries on the south side of the very busy multi-lane Prince Av., Mattison said the new Green Thrift store “will do more to really help make Boulevard a truly walkable neighborhood.”

According to Mattison, the location of the store, on the southeastern corner of the intersection of Dubose Av. and Chase St., has some residents concerned about increased traffic on the already busy Chase St. Green Thrift officials downplayed the concerns and pointed out that their stores boost foot-traffic much more than car-traffic. At present, the site is used as a parking lot for medical offices located across the street. A parking garage will be built nearby to accommodate for the lost parking spaces.
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* This post is a work of fiction. PDN is the acronym for Pipe Dream News, a fake news service that syndicates (actually, pretends to syndicate) fictional news accounts of people, places, things and happenings that do not exist but would be cool if they did.

The Food Trust’s Super Market campaign inspired parts of this post.

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