Joe Downtown: Eggs, bread and other grocery staples find a home on East Fremont Street
A new grocery store is heading downtown.
Sources with the Downtown Project say an urban grocery store is planned for East Fremont Street in the space formerly occupied by Mamita’s Mexican restaurant and the Fremont Street Market & Deli. Both are south of the El Cortez, between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The Downtown Project doesn’t own the properties, according to county records, but leases them from Ike Gaming, the same corporation that owns El Cortez.
The grocery store will be similar to a franchise called Royal Blue in Austin, Texas, sources say.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh spoke of emulating Austin when he announced his company's headquarters would move from Henderson downtown. More recently, Will Wynn, the former mayor of Austin who is credited with turning that city’s downtown around, has consulted for the Downtown Project.
Royal Blue has been described as a “scaled-down Trader Joe’s.” It has three locations in Austin, with two more coming in the next year. The company describes its stores like this: "Royal Blue is a compact urban grocery ... The store draws inspiration from the past, combined with a fresh, modern environment. Small in size but not in its offering. Royal Blue has a little bit of everything, with the convenience of a quick trip and always great customer service. Called a bodega by some, corner store by others, Royal Blue is a modern general store designed to serve the neighborhood where it's located."
Sources said prices in the East Fremont store would likely be higher than those in a typical supermarket. The store also would sell sandwiches and other freshly made items.
The store could be open within nine months, a source said.
Robert Fielden, an urban planner and architect who owns RAFI: Planning, Architecture & Urban Design, said a grocery store is a step in the right direction in creating a livable downtown. He said the next step would be residences, because population density will be needed to keep the store alive.
Fielden suggested that the housing be attractive and affordable to people who work at City Hall or for the county.
“Bringing these amenities at the same time, I would say that’s the highest priority to focus on right now,” Fielden said. “When you get the people, then you get the grocers, the pharmacy, the dry cleaner and everything else.”
There's already a small specialty food store, Resnicks Grocery, on the first floor of the Soho Lofts. And another small grocery store recently opened further west, at East Oakey and South Las Vegas boulevards.
White Cross Market offers most items found in a supermarket, at a slightly higher price. Its location, like Resnicks', is convenient for people living in the Soho, Newport and July high rises and in the John S. Park and Beverly Green neighborhoods east of Las Vegas Boulevard.
But getting there from the East Fremont area where the Downtown Project has bought $200 million in property is difficult. It isn't walking distance, and the drive is significant.
Fielden thinks a grocery store on East Fremont will work but will depend on timing and planning.
“Timing is so critical,” he said. “First you have to give birth, then you have to nurture. So you want to do it as holistically as possible. You have to have a plan. You can’t just throw it in the air and see what sticks.”