Builders offer a new perk: a very short walk to the grocery store
The apartment buildings popping up across Greater Boston lately have all sorts of attractions at street level. Fancy gyms. Coffee shops. Bars. And, increasingly, supermarkets.
A Trader Joe’s that opened Thursday in the lobby of the Continuum apartment building in Allston is the latest in a wave of grocery stores coming to housing developments around the region. From the South End to Waltham, builders looking to fill their ground floors with businesses that double as amenities are teaming up with grocers who want easy access to an upscale clientele. The result: A new hybrid, something between the corner grocers of old Boston and the vast supermarkets of suburbia.
It’s closing a gap that developed in recent decades as supermarkets focused on the suburbs, said Peter Sougarides, executive vice president at Samuels & Associates, which built Continuum. Now, with more people moving into Boston, they’re finding opportunities.
“All of a sudden, supermarkets are seeing this huge customer base they aren’t serving,” he said. “With the type of mixed-use housing and retail buildings that are getting built, it makes sense to go together.”
The first grocer to anchor a mixed-use project in Boston was Whole Foods Market, which opened in the South End’s Ink Block complex in 2015. Later that year, Roche Bros. opened in the basement of the Millennium Tower complex in Downtown Crossing. Now there’s Trader Joe’s in Allston, and a Roche Bros. spinoff, Brothers Marketplace, is set to open in a Waltham apartment building next spring. In addition, Star Market has signed a lease at the Hub on Causeway complex, under construction next to North Station.
Even land-rich supermarket companies are getting into the development act. Earlier this year, Stop & Shop filed plans for an apartment complex with about 1,000 units at its store on the Allston-Brighton line. And a spokeswoman for Market Basket confirmed the chain is exploring a large mixed-use project on land it owns at its store site in Chelsea, timed to the planned expansion of the MBTA’s Silver Line.
For grocery stores, having residents upstairs provides a built-in customer base, and typically one apartment building leads to another, putting more customers within walking distance. They can anchor not just a building, but a neighborhood.
That’s what Trader Joe’s regional vice president Chris Maguire was hoping for as he stood inside the new store in Allston Thursday morning. As workers readied for the grand opening, a steady stream of pedestrians walked by. Once the doors were open, some were popping in for groceries.
“This is such a vibrant community here,” Maguire said. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”
Developers say they’re happy to bring in grocers, too. In a highly competitive rental market, where every new building seems to have a coffee shop and a boutique gym, offering grocery shopping on the ground floor is a way to set your project apart, said Peter Standish, senior vice president at Northland Investment Corp., which is building The Merc, in Waltham, where Roche Bros. is putting its Brothers Marketplace.
“It’s an extension of our amenities,” Standish said. “When you’re trying to create an urban-type, walkable place, having a really high-quality grocer in the building is ideal.”
Indeed, it’s no surprise that high-end housing and supermarkets are pairing up, said Travis D’Amato, a broker at the real estate firm JLL who specializes in apartment buildings. In many ways, they’re going after the same customer: younger urbanites with an on-the-go lifestyle and money to spend.
“If a grocer like Whole Foods believes in a location, it’s going to be a pretty good location from a high-end demographic standpoint,” D’Amato said. “That’s generally what an apartment building owner wants, too. There are some obvious synergies.”
There are, however, some sticking points.
The logistics of loading and unloading groceries in the early morning can be complicated when a few hundred people are sleeping upstairs. To lessen the noise, Samuels installed extra insulation above Trader Joe’s and built in loading dock access from the building’s garage.
Parking also can be a challenge. While smaller-format city grocers tend to get a lot of walk-by business, some consumers still prefer to drive to the supermarket and head home with a carload of bags. For Trader Joe’s, that means a dedicated elevator to the basement garage, where the store controls about 100 parking spaces and offers free validated parking.
All of it, Maguire said, is about blending into the community, from the blocks nearby to the residents upstairs.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” he said.