By and large, the most-requested service your Economic Development Department hears is that citizens desire a high-end grocery store. The 10,000 square foot MOM's Organic Market store in Waldorf has both performed very well and been received with open arms since its opening nearly three years ago.
So why don't we yet have a Wegmans, a Whole Foods, or a Harris Teeter, and more importantly, what needs to happen to attract a store like that here?
Each grocer uses its own particular criteria to evaluate a market's viability and decide whether it makes business sense to invest in a new store in a particular area. However, there are some criteria that are consistent across the board:
- Available Space: Grocery stores are large and require significant parking and top-notch visibility. Wegmans stores run 75,000 to 140,000 square feet in size. Many prefer to be in a grocery-anchored center with complementary shopping in the same area. So an attractive site would likely be 20-plus acres with frontage on a heavily travelled road.
- Population and density: Grocers need a large number of potential customers to be viable. Downtown Silver Spring – home to a Whole Foods and many other stores – has 230,000 residents within a 3-mile radius and more than 600,000 within 5 miles. Whole Foods typically requires 200,000 people or more in a 20-minute drive. The population within a 5-mile radius of downtown Waldorf (Rte. 301 and Rte. 5) is roughly 90,000, and Charles County’s total population is just under 153,000. Of course we residents know that we are on a peninsula and people will drive much further in Southern Maryland to access amenities. So our department makes the case that the market area for a specialty grocer is much larger than average and would encompass not only Charles County, but also Southern Prince George’s County, St. Mary’s County, and some Calvert and King George County residents, comprising a potential market of some 300,000 people.
- Education levels: High-end grocers desire a demographic with a large number of college-educated residents. Advanced degrees are even better. They tend to believe that people who are more highly educated are more likely to seek healthy food options, and of course, education does correlate with disposable income. The percent of county residents with bachelor’s degrees grew more than 30% between 2000 – 2011 and nearly 50% in the same time frame. However, the total number of degree holders is less than in more densely populated areas. But the county is becoming increasingly appealing on this measure.
- Income levels: Stores look for high income levels combined with a large population. Charles County and its neighboring counties are home to some of the highest median income levels in the country. Residents on average spend less on housing than most counties in the DC metro area, meaning that the disposable income needed to afford specialty grocery products exists in the market.
- Competitive market: A population of a given size can support a limited number of grocery stores; after all, we each consume a finite amount of food! Grocers will evaluate the total amount of competition in the area.Your opinion matters! We encourage you to contact your favorite high-end grocer and kindly tell them how much you would like to have one of their stores in Charles County and/or the town where you shop. The executive team from Silver Diner shared with our staff that they had received several customer comment cards asking for a Waldorf location – and one opened last year.
More Information: Wegmans opens only two or three stores each year, and according to their website, has stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts. Click here for a list of where Wegmans will be building stores in the near future. More information on Whole Foods’ store requirements can be found on their Real Estate page. You can also refer to this recent article by the Washingtonian, How Whole Foods Decides If Your Neighborhood Is Worthy. Contact Harris Teeter here.