January 22, 2015

Supermarkets and large chain stores in an urban context

The images below are of grocery stores and a sporting goods store on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Ralphs is in LA and the other three are in Santa Monica. Each of these buildings presents itself to the public realm differently. The three Santa Monica examples, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, and Big 5, have varying degrees of transparency from the sidewalk. My assumption is that Santa Monica requires this. Bristol Farms has a few windows and provides a sign directing customers to the entrance behind the building. Big 5 Sporting Goods at least has an entrance on the street. The Whole Foods is the best example of how to do a large format chain store that emphasizes connection to the sidewalk. The primary entrance faces Wilshire and they've placed patio dining and their florist department at the sidewalk. Excellent job. Ad kudos to the planner and residents who likely fought for this.

The Ralph's grocery store in LA is an example of how not  to do it. No entrance on the street. Not even windows. Ok, there are windows. They've got them covered with images of food, but when those images were not there the windows looked into a nothing space with blank walls. The Ralphs and Bristol Farms stores say to the many customers on foot that they would prefer they arrive by car. They say, walking along the driveway and enter from the back. The Whole Foods example proves it can be done well. It's a shame these busineses don't take advantage of the dense population nearby. Many of whom walk, or would walk, to the store if it were more hospitable to people on foot.  (See the final image below from Google maps.)



1 comment:

Johnny said...

Good post. I once had a conversation with people who are familiar with the Kroger supermarket chain in the Midwest. The branch of their corporate offices that designs and locates their stores is based in a suburban location. Their employees all live on cul-de-sacs and have no experience with urban environments. They're really focussed on big shopping centers off the side of the highway. Building a supermarket inside a city confuses them and they don't understand the market dynamics at all. Mostly they think the city is full of scary dangerous people so they try and make them as bullet proof as possible. They picture themselves or their wives or daughters in such an dangerous environment and they think they need to shepherd the cars into a secure parking garage so customers never have to step food in the city itself. Hence the blank windowless walls and the pedestrian entrance in the back past the driveway.

On the other hand, if a well intentioned person were to build a pedestrian friendly mixed use building out on the side of the highway in the suburbs it wouldn't work either. Context is important and it works both ways.