The most important downtown Spokane business

Currently, Rite-Aid is the most important business in downtown Spokane. At least, if we want to continue to grow our residential base. (PHOTO: ky24941 on Flickr)

Nope. You’re not blind. The most important business in downtown Spokane is Rite Aid. Much talk is given to Nordstrom and Macy’s and Apple, but if our goal is to increase the amount of people living downtown, then Rite Aid remains critically significant to the area’s long-term success. Why? No other store downtown offers such basic needs. Where else, for example, could you purchase a toothbrush at 9pm when you realize that you need a new one? (Answer: nowhere.) When deciding whether to live downtown, people don’t worry about shopping. Our downtown shopping scene is already excellent. They worry about where they are going to find basic needs: food, medication, supplies.

Indeed, in order to drive long-term success in attracting young professionals to live downtown, city leaders and businesspeople should be focused on bringing more basic retail to the area. Attracting a grocery store should be the number one priority. (In contrast to Mark Richard’s proposal to close the Spokane Public Library branch and insert large-format retail.) Local favorite Rosauer’s could explore an urban concept store, or Albertson’s could build a local version of “the market by Safeway” (Albertson’s will soon complete its Safeway purchase). But one thing’s for sure: basic needs trump outside desires in the new downtown.

What do you think? Is Rite Aid the most important business in downtown Spokane? Do you shop there? Live downtown? What would be your most important store? Where would you like to see a grocery store downtown? And which retailer would you like to see operate it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Speaking of a grocery in a remodeled Sherwood Building…

Grocery is the major issue holding downtown Spokane’s housing expansion from reaching hyper-speed. So is the Sherwood Building’s remodel the solution? (PHOTO: Sherwood Plaza)

On Tuesday, I tweeted as part of the #insteadofsprawl campaign that a grocery store on the first floor of the Sherwood Building, which is currently being remodeled into Class A office space on the second floor and above, would help downtown continue to expand its housing options. Currently downtown doesn’t have a mainstream grocery store within easy reach by foot or bike, but adding one would encourage more people that downtown can be a viable option even for families.

Now we have this rendering of what a remodeled Sherwood might look like. While the rendering may not be indicative of specific tenants or plans, it certainly may illustrate some of the thinking of the owners. Perhaps Rosauer’s or another local grocer could develop plans for an urban-concept store. Time will tell, but we hope this rendering indicates a possible path forward for downtown.

Could “the market” by Safeway be one solution to our downtown grocery problem?

"the market" by Safeway occupies this urban corner in downtown San Jose. Perhaps it could be a solution for downtown Spokane?
“the market” by Safeway occupies this urban corner in downtown San Jose. It’s a fully-stocked store. Perhaps it could be a solution for downtown Spokane?

Supermarkets are important. Though in recent years, people have been moving away from traditional grocery stores and toward specialty retailers like Trader Joe’s and discount clubs like Costco, the problem of food remains a critical issue. In a vibrant urban downtown, it’s essential that a grocery store serve the population by providing nutritious, inexpensive products. It’s one of the necessities that will make-or-break a downtown from a livability and residential perspective. No grocery store? Good luck convincing families and young people to locate there.

Currently, Spokane has no real downtown grocery store. Yes, Main Market operates on the east end of Main, but it’s focused primarily on organic and specialty items (it’s more of a Huckleberry’s than a Rosauer’s). And yes, Grocery Outlet remains open near Browne’s Addition, but that’s not within walking distance of most downtown residents. No, what Spokane needs is a mainline or more traditional grocer. Something like Safeway. It could be one good fit. The chain in 2008 opened a store in downtown San Jose called “the market,” which offered everything found in a typical suburban store, but in a smaller format better-suited to downtown streetfront locations. It’s done quite well, and helped to usher in a sort of renaissance of downtown housing in that city. Perhaps Spokane could move in that direction? Or maybe Rosauer’s, as a local company, could offer a home-grown solution?

First, however, a developer needs to propose a building with enough first-floor retail space. That’s the most realistic scenario that would result in a downtown grocery store. What incentives are being offered for new construction downtown? Is there an incentive for opening a new grocery store there? What can be done to reduce red-tape for developers without compromising reasonable design standards? These are the questions that city leaders and citizens should be asking as we attempt to build a housing base downtown.

What do you think? Does downtown Spokane need a more traditional grocery store? Share your thoughts below in our comments section, on Twitter, on Facebook, or in person. We love to hear from you.