BALTIMORE — Small box, big statement.
That's the thinking of city officials here about the arrival of SuperFresh to Baltimore's central business district. Nestled in the ground floor of a high-rise residential building and measuring a cozy 11,000 square feet, SuperFresh is the first and only grocery store in the district, officials said, and as such is a landmark event in a downtown renaissance.
Officials of SuperFresh parent A&P, Montvale, N.J., see the store as something of a new beginning as well. While considerably smaller than the typical SuperFresh location, the store features elements that have been or are to be rolled out across the banner's 75 other locations, including a striking new logo and a new emphasis on fresh and prepared foods.
“Like Baltimore itself, our company has ushered in an exciting period of revitalization, upgrading our store offer to best serve the communities that have for so long been a part of our history,” Harry Austin, regional vice president of SuperFresh, said in a statement.
The opening last month capped a lengthy courtship between Baltimore and SuperFresh, according to Terri Harrington, leasing agent for The Shapiro Co., Baltimore. Harrington, who was responsible for finding tenants for the Charles Plaza project on behalf of developer Southern Management, said SuperFresh was the only supermarket to express interest in the project; others declined, professing not to understand urban markets.
“I started prospecting for a supermarket around four years ago, and SuperFresh was the only supermarket that really understood the central business district and this particular market,” Harrington told SN.
SuperFresh was initially skeptical, she added. Officials first needed to believe that a downtown residential population boom could sustain itself, and then they had to be convinced that the location Harrington was offering would be the best place to benefit from that growth.
While census figures show the city of Baltimore has been losing residents for 50 years, recent residential growth in certain pockets of town, such as the central business district, indicate a new interest in city life. Some 37,000 residents live within a 1-mile radius of the new SuperFresh store, according to Kirby Fowler, president, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, an economic development agency. That figure is twice what it was five years ago.
“People like the vibrancy downtown. They're able to walk to the attractions, to restaurants, museums. It's a very livable downtown,” said Fowler, whose agency provided assistance in permitting, parking and publicity for the new store (SuperFresh did not receive tax or other financial incentives, he said).
“One disadvantage downtown had was that it hadn't had a supermarket within walking distance of a lot of these residences. Now we do. I think it will make a big improvement in the number of retailers and residents we see here,” Fowler told SN. “It will be a catalyst for more development.”
While SuperFresh tends to build locations of more than 40,000 square feet in the suburbs, its 11,000-square-foot Baltimore store was one of the few spaces downtown even that large, Harrington said.
Inside, the Baltimore SuperFresh offers a miniature twist on the fresh store prototype currently being rolled out to conventional stores throughout the chain. Like those stores, fresh and prepared foods are emphasized here, as are high-end items such as gourmet cheeses. In a nod to the daytime worker population of 100,000, the store offers wi-fi service, cafe seating and a coffee bar.