Urban Design and Grocery Stores

With a grocery store proposed as part of a mixed-use development at 46th and Hiawatha (see the Planning Commission submittal to the Committee of the Whole last week for plans), it is time to review good urban standards for grocery store design. Grocery stores are complicated due to issues of customer access, parking, and truck delivery, and walkability and good urban design is sometimes sacrificed. Let’s look at some considerations for the 46th Street store.

Lunds & Byerlys northeast Minneapolis

Lunds & Byerlys in northeast Minneapolis

We’ll begin with the Lunds & Byerlys on University Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. This store is in many ways the gold standard for urban grocery stores in the Twin Cities, as the parking is hidden from view entirely, being in a structure on the back side of the block. This frees up the frontage (shown above) to be quite pedestrian friendly, with a primary door facing the sidewalk, large windows, street trees and sidewalk seating, all at the base of a mixed-use building with residential homes above. So yes, there are two primary doors, one facing the sidewalk in front and the other facing the parking structure in back. The grocery store faces University, retail stores face the side street (Central Avenue), and the pharmacy is at the corner, which is a very good solution for the development while still accommodating significant parking.

Seward co-op

Seward Co-op, Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis

Just last fall I reviewed the new Seward Co-op on 38th Street in Minneapolis. A simple shift of the primary pedestrian door to the corner of the building, facing the sidewalk and parking lot, provides a reasonable hybrid solution. Like at the Seward Co-op on Franklin (shown above), a primary corner door provides direct access from the sidewalk and allows the building frontage to face the street while maintaining a good interior store layout.

Middleton Hills Copps

Copps, Middleton Hills, Wisconsin

In Middleton Hills, an Andres Duany-designed new urbanism community in suburban Madison, Wisconsin, the 44,000 square foot Copps grocery store is creatively integrated in to the urban fabric of the walkable street network. This is achieved by providing two primary doors, one facing the main parking lot on the “suburban” side of the store, and the other (shown above) opening to a small plaza with seating that faces the street and small urban commercial district. A significant change to overall store layout was not necessary to achieve this solution, and a liner of small stores and housing wraps the side of the store facing the urban street.


Urban Fare, Vancouver, British Columbia

Among the many great urban grocery stores I’ve found, my favorite is Urban Fare in Vancouver, British Columbia. Yes, it is in downtown Vancouver, and I’m not aware that any parking was required to be provided, which likely made designing a walkable store vastly easier. Most important and replicatable is the pedestrian-friendly corner of the store (shown above). The door, facing the intersection of two relatively calm streets, gets the primary foot traffic for the store, with everyone passing by outdoor seating, hanging plants and other items displayed for sale. Design, marketing and people come together in this wonderful setting that would make Jane Jacobs proud. But beware, a corner door doesn’t solve all problems. Even the new Whole Foods in downtown Minneapolis has a corner door, but it remains a bit too sterile.

46th Street Development Site Plan/First Floor Plan

46th Street Development Site Plan/First Floor Plan

And so we move to the proposed mixed-use development near the 46th Street station of the Blue Line. The site plan (shown above) shows the layout of the proposed grocery store, with produce in one corner, deli on one side, loading in back, and check out near the primary door that faces the parking lot to the south. My primary critique of the site plan is the primary door doesn’t face a street, despite being in a pedestrian overlay district and part of a transit station area plan. The primary door could easily be moved to the southwest corner of the building, facing both sidewalk and parking. Doing so would dramatically improve and encourage walkability.

46th Street Development - View From Southwest

46th Street Development – View From Southwest

The view from the southwest (shown above) shows the plaza in the immediate foreground, not only detached from the primary door but also physically buffered from the street. The idea behind the buffer is presumably because streets are fast and loud and therefore bad. My understanding is this new section of Snelling Avenue will be tree-lined and relatively slow. This is not the place for a buffer, for this plaza should be embraced as a semi-public transition between the store and street, a place for people to spend time. Future building or trail development might result in this being a more prominent pedestrian space, so plan for that as well.

46th Street Development - View From Northwest

46th Street Development – View From Northwest

The primary rendering for the project (shown above) is nicely lit, colored and shows places for people. And there is much to like – mixed-use, street trees, on-street parking, wide sidewalks, etc. But look closely. First, note that unless you live there, you will never enjoy those second floor rooftop green and pool amenities, so look past them. Second, the corner in the foreground (46th and Snelling) shows outdoor tables and umbrellas, but look at the site plan above and note that is outside the apartment entrance. In my experience, I’ve never seen outdoor seating for an apartment building, and suspect this prime corner won’t be so pleasant and active as shown if that’s the use inside. Maybe this corner should be actual retail space instead. Third, the parking bay along Snelling is a good idea but has no street trees. Add them.

An urban grocery store is an important element of a transit station area, as it should be. Be sure it is more pedestrian-friendly and, well, more urban. Move that door to the corner, make the plaza public, and add trees to the street. Improved, more walkable design can likely be accomplished without dramatically rearranging the interior grocery layout and circulation. But if doing so creates more active frontages on 46th and Snelling, including moving the apartment entrance, then it should be considered. Let’s take advantage of this great opportunity.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

22 thoughts on “Urban Design and Grocery Stores

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    A rather thoughtless placement for the bike parking, not near any door and across the road. 👎 Is there a plan to place a cart corral next to the bike parking? Doubtful.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Good point – perhaps the developers will consider a better location, particularly if the plaza space is better utilized.

      Nice Ride may very well consider a corral as well.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      I have not heard yet what store is proposed here. However, this store is just under 50,000 square feet, and Hy-Vee stores are considerably bigger, so I suspect it won’t be a Hy-Vee. But I could be wrong.

      1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

        Hy-Vee just opened up a 35ksf store in the base of a new apartment building in downtown Des Moines, so I could see them going for a second one.

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I agree w/ Eric on the bicycle parking. Something I’ve found is that riding in inclement weather is much better than loading groceries in it. This is why grocery stores in Europe have covered bicycle parking. You can stay dry from store to loaded bike and sitting on a dry seat – then ride.

    Along with this is how will bicycle riders get here safely from their homes? What kind of facilities will there be?

    I think 50,000 sq ft is on the large size. Yes, Cub, Hy-Vee, and others are 90,000+ but I think we’re going to go in the same direction as Europe where people got tired of driving farther to big-box groceries, didn’t like the long hike across the huge parking lot, and the time it took to wander through a huge store trying to find stuff. Most of the EU chains and indy’s have abandoned big-box and seem to be focusing on less than 40,000 and often closer to 20-25,000. Locally, Kowalski’s is going in this direction and betting that people will prefer their closer and smaller store to the huge Cub a few miles father away. If people realized the cost of each mile they drive they’d be even more likely to want smaller local stores.

    More street facing retail would be welcomed.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      A trail is proposed along the freight rail ROW – when built it will be immediately adjacent to the store. In the meantime the west side of Hiawatha has an off-street facility. The parkway paths are one block south. Recently- rebuilt Minnehaha is a half block east and has bike lanes. So overall decent bicycle access, although 46th Street is lacking.

  3. Dan McGuire

    In the picture it appears as if there’s a streetlight at this new intersection. It would be almost impossible to access 46th st without one. But, a light that close to the traffic leaving the Hiawatha strip mall along with all of the other traffic coming onto 46th from Hiawatha is going to make this place a traffic jam all day long. I don’t think anybody is going to be happy with the traffic flow unless there’s some major reconfiguration of the whole length of 46th between and Hiawatha and Minnehaha.

  4. bev turk

    Some of the previous proposals for this area were for smaller grocery stores – 20,000SF to 30,000SF. I think this makes much more sense for this site (if a grocery store at all). This area cannot handle any more congestion on 46th street. Also, The apartment building should be limited to three or four stories. I would hope that the city will not give the variances for a larger, higher building. We need more green spaces, fewer cars, more bike friendly.

  5. Pat Engstrand

    I know Aldi is not as glamorous as a Lund’s or Trader Joe but they are extremely affordable and have 90% of what a shopper needs. Did you know that Trader Joe actually owns Aldi? Just think of it as buying the generic brand of really good stuff. They’re smaller than a HyVee or some of the others mentioned so it could be perfect. Just my opinion, of course. Thanks for letting me share it.

      1. Pat Engstrand

        Wow, thanks for the clarification. I’ve been quoting this incorrectly for years! Too bad I don’t remember the source of my information. I probably just misunderstood.

        1. Chachi Engebretsen

          it’s confusing because the parent companies are both “Aldi”

          Trader Joes is owned by Aldi Nord

          Aldi is owned by Aldi Süd

  6. Lynn

    It would be great to have a Whole Foods Market! You have to get on the highway to reach a Whole Foods from the Longfellow neighborhood. There isn’t a grocery store nearby that has the vast amount of products in the ‘Wellness’ section like Whole Foods with alternative medicine. I’m not interested in what the other grocery stores carry that are the same as Walgreens, which seems to be on every corner.

  7. Steven Foster

    Small to Mid Grocery stores do seem to fare well in an urban environment but there are many factors here that seem to be unique. Automobile traffic is not going away and anyone who has driven the area knows the effect light rail has on traffic. 46th between the river and Hiawatha carries a great deal of traffic. I do not know if it designated an Arterial but it could be. Consider the Cub Foods on Nicollet and 59th can be difficult but then the Aldi on Penn off hwy 62 in Richfield seems smooth.
    What of the existing business at the intersection? The Holiday station is the only local gas station for one. Will that be sacrificed?
    Not against the idea. I would love to have a local grocery option. So long it is not Cub.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Correct, this proposal only includes the warehouse site. Holiday and all other uses would remain as part of this development plan.

      2. Steven foster

        Yes that is true but I wonder about the capacity. Could be wrong about that but I see Holiday is busy on most days. Geller is primarily a repair shop. A good one at that!

      3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        We can also question how much longer that Holiday will be viable or needed. More fuel efficient cars, more people walking, riding bicycles, and transit, more electric cars…

  8. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

    The proposed grocery store is just over 48,000 square feet. Although we don’t know which grocer is intending to lease this space, I believe we can narrow it down to a few possibilities – Whole Foods or Kowalskis. Those two companies have built stores recently within that range of size, and their closest stores have very little geographic overlap with this area (my opinion, feel free to argue).

    I believe the following are ruled out because: Lunds is immediately across the Ford Bridge in Saint Paul; Trader Joe’s typically builds stores less than 20,000 square feet, and because of Minneapolis liquor laws, only one Trader Joe’s (selling wine and beer) are allowed in the city and it is being built downtown now; Aldi builds stores less than 20,000 square feet and are already 2 miles away at Hi-Lake. Fresh Thyme builds stores less than 30,000 square feet. HyVee stores are much larger. Cub is already located at Hi-Lake and isn’t expanding too quickly at the moment.

    All this said, I don’t quite buy in to the food desert argument for this area. Within 2 miles are Aldi, Cub, Everett’s, Oxendale’s, Supervalu (on Cedar), Longfellow Market (on Lake), Lunds, plus the two Seward Co-ops just over 2 miles away, as well as a smattering of smaller, local grocers and convenience stores. Whole Foods or Kowalskis would find a pretty large number of high-income households near 46th and Hiawatha, so in many ways either one would make sense. The question is which if any nearby grocers would be hurt by this and how much?

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