Williamsburg area grocery store landscape continues to evolve

tjefferson@vagazette.com

The Nov. 27 announcement that Publix will open a supermarket in the Monticello Marketplace space that Martin’s vacated in July brings a new player and more competition to what some already see as an over-grocered community.

“It’s become a more competitive market, with each (store) having different offerings,” James City County economic development director Amy Jordan said.

There are 16 grocery stores in Williamsburg, upper York and James City counties, and more might be on the way.

According to data from the Food Marketing Institute and U.S. Census Bureau, there is one grocery store for every 8,800 people in the United States. The rate for Greater Williamsburg is one store for about every 6,100 people.

“My perception is we are over-grocered. There are so many new players in the marketplace that it’s too many for the consumers we have here,” said Jim Noel, York County economic development director.

But Michele Dewitt, the economic development director for the city of Williamsburg, said it’s becoming the norm to have so many grocery stores in one area.

“That’s a national trend,” she said.

And Williamsburg might have an additional grocery store option by fall 2018.

Michael Jacoby, CEO of Broad Street Realty, which bought the Williamsburg Shopping Center in January for $13.3 million, said they are talking with an organic grocer which would go into it’s new Midtown development.

Despite all the store activity, the Grove neighborhood of James City County is still without a grocery store and is considered a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jordan said her office is aware the area lacks a grocery store and is working to find a solution, but she did not offer a time frame.

Old-school flavor

While Grove is without a grocery store, Monticello Marketplace is adding a new store with an old-school flavor.

Publix will bring a sense of familiarity to a local grocery scene that’s ever-changing, according to Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a publication that tracks grocery sales throughout the region.

Metzger said Publix will have a feel similar to Ukrop’s, which was in the shopping center before Martin’s.

“If you roll the clock back seven years ago, the foundational values that Ukrop’s had, you will find with Publix: a strong level of customer service, clean stores and well-trained customer associates,” Metzger said.

Publix has 1,162 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. These stores combined for $34 billion in sales last year.

The 15 grocery stores in Greater Williamsburg combined for $371 million in grocery sales in 2016, according to Food World. In 2015, that figure was $358 million.

Tale of the tape

Locally, Farm Fresh had $61 million in sales in 2016, the most among its peers. Walmart, Food Lion, Martin’s and Harris Teeter rounded out the top five sales leaders.

Despite its place at the top of the list, Farm Fresh’s sales were down about $7 million from $68 million in 2015, according to the study.

While its competitors had similar sales figures for the past two years, Food Lion saw a $10 million increase from 2015 to 2016. Walmart was the only other traditional grocery store that saw an uptick in sales year over year: from $49 million in 2015 to $50 million in 2016.

The Farm Fresh on Merrimac Trail closed in October, leaving all of York County with 12 grocery stores. Farm Fresh would not comment on how many jobs were lost.

Noel said poor traffic counts, low visibility and the size of the store were all reasons why the store would probably be replaced with a non-grocer.

The York County Planning Commission approved a request Nov. 8 to turn the Farm Fresh into a climate controlled self-service storage facility. The York County Board of Supervisors has yet to hear the request.

Noel said most grocery stores are either larger or smaller than the old Farm Fresh on Merrimac Trail, which opened in 1998.

Jordan said grocery store owners look at residential growth and income level before deciding where to locate.

Harris Teeter communications manager Danna Robinson said several factors go into where the organization chooses to put a store.

“Our decisions ... to build or maintain stores or fuel centers are never based on one thing, but rather a variety of factors: size and configuration of sites, existing and future traffic patterns, the proximity of existing Harris Teeter locations, as well as other demographic and economic considerations, including residential growth.”

While York County is losing a grocery store, James City County could be gaining another.

Lidl, a Germany-based grocery store, plans to build a nearly 36,000-square-foot store on Richmond Road within 3 miles of three other grocery stores, according to county documents.

The proposed store was approved by the county development review committee in April, but still has to pass muster with the planning commission and Board of Supervisors before construction can begin.

Planning director Paul Holt said the commission could hear the request in January, but a firm date hasn’t been set.

The bottom half of the grocery store sales list is comprised of what Jordan called “complimentary grocers,” such as Trader Joe’s.

“A complimentary grocer … aims to be near a traditional grocery store like Martin’s,” Jordan said. “They might not have full product offerings, but they have a niche.”

The complimentary store helps fill out the market for shoppers in need of more options.

“It’s not the place you go and do your full grocery shopping, but can go and get a specific thing,” she said.

2016 grocery sales

Williamsburg, upper York County and James City County market

  • Farm Fresh: $61 million
  • Walmart neighborhood market and supercenter: $50 million
  • Food Lion: $49 million
  • Martin’s: $42 million
  • Harris Teeter: $25 million
  • CVS: $23 million
  • Target: $20 million
  • 7-Eleven: $18 million
  • Rite Aid: $17 million
  • Trader Joe’s: $15 million
  • Fresh Market: $11 million

2015 grocery sales

  • Farm Fresh: $68 million
  • Walmart neighborhood market and supercenter: $49 million
  • Martin’s: $44 million
  • Food Lion: $39 million
  • Harris Teeter: $25 million
  • Target: $24 million
  • CVS: $19 million
  • 7-Eleven: $18 million
  • Rite Aid: $17 million
  • Trader Joe’s: $14 million
  • Fresh Market: $12 million

Area grocery stores

James City County

  • Farm Fresh, 4511 John Tyler Highway.
  • Walmart Neighborhood Market, 4670 Casey Blvd.
  • Food Lion, 1234 Richmond Road.
  • Harris Teeter, 6485 Centerville Road.
  • Target, 4630 Monticello Ave.
  • Trader Joe’s, 5000 Settlers Market Blvd.
  • Farm Fresh, 115 Norge Lane.
  • Food Lion, 5251 John Tyler Highway.
  • Fresh Market, 5231 Monticello Ave.

Williamsburg

  • Aldi, 1504 Richmond Road.
  • Food Lion, 5601 Richmond Road.
  • Harris Teeter, 1470 Quarterpath Road.

York County

  • Walmart, 731 E. Rochambeau.
  • Target, 200 Marquis Parkway.
  • Food Lion, 8100 George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

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