Downtown Bureau

Supermarket Subsidy Spurs Spirited Discussion

Downtown advocates discuss opportunities to establish a new supermarket in the underserved downtown core.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 07, 2012

Last Monday, the Spectator reported that the City is considering a one-time offer of $650,000 to entice a grocery store downtown.

Other than the Farmers' Market, which is open four days a week, there are no supermarkets between the Fortino's on Dundurn Street South at King Street West, the Food Basics on Barton Street East at Mary Street, and the No Frills on Main Street East at Erie Avenue.

That's an area of over six square kilometres, comprising some of the most populous mixed-income neighbourhoods in the city.

Obstacles to Downtown Supermarket

The basic issue stopping a prospective developer is that per-square-foot property costs are higher downtown than elsewhere in the city, but supermarkets run on very tight margins and can't afford a big up-front penalty for premium real estate.

At the same time, the downtown core faces a kind of 'soft redlining' from banks and financiers that still don't really understand urban economics and are reluctant to support downtown reinvestment - despite a strong track record of successful projects.

Meanwhile, the overall local residential market for a grocery store is still not quite dense, proximate and affluent enough for urban economies to kick in - though it's trending the right way.

Reduce the Barrier

The city's Economic Development department is hearing from grocery store chains that they've looked at the numbers for a downtown supermarket and the startup cost/risk is still a barrier.

Staff proposed the one-time subsidy because they calculated that it will be enough to push an investor over the hump and make the business viable.

That, in turn, will remove an important barrier to more people moving downtown - the lack of local access to groceries. In other words, the supermarket itself will foster the conditions for its own continued success.

It's a chicken/egg problem, and staff see the subsidy as a way to break the impasse. The idea has already spurred a thoughtful, spirited exchange among several community advocates.

Community Effort

M Adrian Brassington of the MyStoneyCreek blog proposed a counter-offer to engaged citizens: "utilize your immense talents and sound, heart-based energies and construct a co-op effort" in partnership with an independent store or supermarket chain.

He argued, "Here's a chance to actually pull together and make a difference. ... There's no reason why a 'community effort' couldn't provide a downtown grocery store, and plough the proceeds back into the community."

Community activist Matt Jelly stressed, "More than anything, I just want to see the development to be leveraged to fill a vacant building/develop a vacant lot/remediate a brownfield, and to be located in a way that it doesn't overly take business away from already-established independents."

He suggested Durand, Corktown, and South Beasley neighbourhoods as areas particularly in need of walkable access to groceries, despite some of the highest population densities in the city.

"To be honest," he concluded, "I'm not picky on the specific end-result consumer arrangement, as long as it's a good, affordable grocery store downtown."


Graham Crawford of HIStory+HERitage on James Street North applauded the idea of an incentive and wants to couple it with a compatible development, like the Royal Connaught or the residential towers LIUNA proposed building behind the Lister Block.

"Any residential project within the boundaries of Economic Development's Downtown Hamilton Community Improvement Project Area would benefit from having a grocery store within walking distance. It's an amenity most residential developers say is a significant benefit. Critical mass is the key."

He also suggested that competition would help, rather than hurt, the Farmers' Market by focusing the energy and efforts of the stallholders "to identify and to offer a unique service."

Jeremy Freiburger, executive director of the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts, shared Crawford's desire that the city should "leverage the incentive to immediately spur another development.

"Instead of hoping that the grocery store will encourage residency in the core, make it definitely spur development by making it the leverage point in a larger project."

Broader Engagement

Glen Norton, the City's manager of urban renewal, confirmed that staff are also looking at this angle, but warned, "if by 'bundling' it with something bigger, the grocery store [may get] delayed (or even stopped) if that bigger project does not get its funding or is stopped or significantly delayed for some reason."

He also suggested splitting the $650,000 into a few smaller prizes, "so that local stores could expand to include more space, products, and hours of operation".

Norton looks forward to more and broader community engagement on urban revitalization opportunities.

Urban Design

Finally, it's essential that a downtown grocery store respect urban design guidelines for its construction. It would do the downtown no good to demolish a block of urban streetwall and build a one-storey retail warehouse surrounded by surface parking.

Instead, we could transform one of our block-busting surface parking lots into a multi-storey, mixed-use building with a supermarket as the anchor tenant.

This essay is also published in today's Spectator.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 06:37:02

Wow. Considering its history, I actually have the right to 'mystoneycreek' this thread!

: )

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 17:01:42 in reply to Comment 73769

Co-Op stores are very labour & research intensive. It's a lot of work for even a few people. You need people with a lot of time, energy, & long term commitment to make them work, & an economic downturn, a cold snap down South, or commodity price fluctuations can sink you very quickly.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 07:21:01

Something I've been begging for since I moved to Corktown. Not sure how far the 650K will go, but here's to hoping we get an affordable and 24 hour grocery store!

PS - it doesn't have to have a parking lot or be enormous. There's lots of 'mini-Sobeys' in downtown Toronto that would work great in the ground floor of an empty office space, or convert one of the parking lots into something useful - maybe, say, Main and Hughson, or off of Wellington..?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 09:30:54 in reply to Comment 73770

I live in Corktown too and the grocery scene is pretty dismal. We are just far enough away from all 3 closest stores that it's a huge pain to shop.

How about the "augusta lofts" building - lots of space to bump that out a bit toward the street for a bigger footprint. Or have a parking lot I suppose. The second floor could be offices - or better yet, a restaurant or cafe. That building is a terrible location for residential - whoever came up with that plan must have been purely joking.

Another spot that comes to mind is the mirage nightclub (formerly modern india buffet) - nice large footprint and there's a parking lot next to it too.

My dream is to see groceries in the delta bingo space, but it will be a while before we get their claws out of the downtown I think.

The Hasty Market on John (in Corktown) is actually pretty close to full service - I almost always find what I need there in a pinch. And it is open 24/365 too... But in the end it's a glorified convenience store with prices to match.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 16:25:06 in reply to Comment 73789

When I used to live down there (on Young Street) I'd go to the Hasty Market, but more as stop-gap until I could go elsewhere. It was great in a pinch - but not much beyond that. There was another similar place on James at Young - forget the name of it.

If the Mirage is what I think it is -- that dump right at the GO Station - that would be great. Constantly would pass through there coming home from the commute. I would think that the Undermount, Young/ Bold buildings and those adjacent would be able to support a mid-sized grocery store.

Not sure if something on the downtown side of the GO Station would serve more people or not.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2012-02-08 16:25:22

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By Barath (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 08:52:33

Aren't you missing the supermarket on Queen near York? It provides much of what a households needs in terms of foodstuffs.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:20:27 in reply to Comment 73781

The new B&T Food Centre at Queen and York is great, and I use it regularly, but it wouldn't work for our weekly groceries unless we wanted a steady diet of vermicelli, fish and veggies. Basic family staples aren't available, but it is certainly better than the T&T market at Cannon and Park. You know what would be awesome downtown - a large format Denningers with all of their wonderful offerings, plus all the grocery store basics.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 09:01:59

I'm less than enthused about this idea.

Sure, $650k isn't a ton of taxpayer coin in the grand scheme of things, but I can't see how it's enough to make a lasting difference for any company that currently can't develop a profitable model for a downtown store.

But my #1 worry is this: by grocery store, I'm guessing our council means "chain store," or some other kind of low-wage model that can survive on small margins and public handouts, while eviscerating its local, independent retail competitors.

I think those quoted in the article above should be careful what they wish for. It seems to me that the $650k could just as easily be a public subsidy for a WalMart Superstore.

Bundling it with another project would be great, sure, but as it stands, that's not what is on the table.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2012-02-07 09:03:45

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By HopefulHamiltonian (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 00:27:21 in reply to Comment 73784

"while eviscerating its local, independent retail competitors"

That's not always a bad thing. If it makes food more available and people have to spend less money on it, it's not all bad.

One of the reasons I like Walmart is that it makes living much more affordable! :D

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By RB (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 13:13:54 in reply to Comment 73784

Good call... I never though of that angle.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 09:55:27 in reply to Comment 73784

Borelli, I think yours is a wise caution. The details matter hugely, but I am supportive of the concept. As a result, I'd like to ensure we have some meaningful public consultation on exactly what we're looking for and exactly what we're supportive of before we move too far along this path.

You're also correct in saying the bundling is not on the table. That's why I would like more info and more input. I don't know what the right answer is on this one,but there's got to be at least a good answer, possibly even a very good one. We're not there yet.

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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:02:00

Just to correct the record, Ryan's article in the paper is factually wrong when it states that there are no major supermarkets in the downtown quadrant he identifies. Please look at this major enterprise; and if you have never been in there, you are missing some good deals:

Why should taxpayer dollars compete against this private sector provider? Or doesn't he count?

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:23:22 in reply to Comment 73796

That place is great- whatever I don't buy from the farmer's market I buy from the Tan Thanh- amazing produce selection. Thanks for posting this Larry.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 10:20:08 in reply to Comment 73796

Yes, Larry, and there are also two Denningers locations, too.

We're not starving downtown, and we'd prefer a business that WANTS to be here and can make a profit settle down, not some chain-store vulture "enticed" by public funds.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 11:33:42

I am a bit sceptical of the subsidy. There have been too many cases of business subsidies being handed out and before long the business closes up shop.

However, the article did mention that the subsidy could be better utilized as part of a larger development. I think that this is something that I would be more supportive of. e.g. if the grocery subsidy were to be tied into the retail/hotel/condo development taking place at Main/King/Catharine then it just might work.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:22:36

I am a bit sceptical of the subsidy. There have been too many cases of business subsidies being handed out and before long the business closes up shop.

Uh, yeah--ElectroMotive in London, anyone? Stephen Harper was there in London in 2008 handing out $5M in tax-breaks, and not even 4 years later, Caterpillar closes up shop, taking 450 jobs, technology, equipment, and the $5M with them.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:38:12 in reply to Comment 73825

Perfect example.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:32:10

Well, I gotta say... The way the conversation twists and turns here is fascinating. As usual. And it surely reveals a little about default settings, our expectations...and also, what we're protective of, what we're fearful of, etc.

Because I gotta say, if we get 'development' into the core, some/many businesses won't survive. That's just the realities of competition and change. So in a way, I tend to react badly to the kind of 'protectionism' I see here.

As far as I'm concerned, despite some of the points made about 'what's in the downtown', I don't buy (no pun intended) the notion that we already have what we need, or that someone's ably filling our needs.

As I blogged just before I got this whole ball rolling last week, the 'downtown' communities that have had 'supermarkets' the traditional sense, if you please...have had...supermarkets. Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Dominion, Tesco, Somerville, Sainsbury... That's what I'm looking for.

I realize that 'some' people want an 'avante-garde', alternative, 'hipster' (I actually hate that label) business in the core, but if we're talking some kind of store tied into my correspondents were pretty much in agreement with...then it's gonna be a 'major'.

But two things:

In being motivated in getting dialogue started from the beginning, I totally ignored the $650,000 'prize' aspect. Wasn't really on my radar. So I'm not even interested in that discussion, to be honest. However...

The second thing is that my thrust was a community co-op.

The kind that Sean Burak put me onto, here:

Now, that maybe conforms to the 'alternative' approach to a supermarket that some are more attached to. And under those circumstances, I could get on-board with the 'bounty' money. (I'd call it 'seed money for neighbourhood engagement') I covered this in the piece I linked to in my initial comment.

But for me, the dialogue continues:

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By HopefulHamiltonian (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 00:31:00 in reply to Comment 73829

"I realize that 'some' people want an 'avante-garde', alternative, 'hipster' (I actually hate that label) business in the core, but if we're talking some kind of store tied into my correspondents were pretty much in agreement with...then it's gonna be a 'major'."

Right. We're not going to attract people in Hamilton if they drive by and see some run-down building that might sell the things they want. People like brand familiarity and selection.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:59:55 in reply to Comment 73829

I realize that 'some' people want an 'avante-garde', alternative, 'hipster' business in the core, but if we're talking some kind of store tied into development...then it's gonna be a 'major'.

I'm not sure if I'm 'some' people, but I'll be clear:

1) Downtown residents are NOT poorly served, and I bristle at suggestions made by people who don't even live anywhere near DT that we are.

As others have pointed out, there are plenty of resilient, independent businesses in the core that meet the varied shopping needs of downtown's wonderfully diverse population. Thus, we do not need to entice anyone to open a business that would otherwise be unprofitable without a taxpayer subsidy.

2) Businesses live and die, yes, but if your assertion that the eventual tenant will be 'major' is correct, then as a resident of the core, I don't want to see my options limited and homogenized, and I don't want to see empty shop-fronts on James N. again, because a Halal market couldn't compete with a WalMart we didn't need.

The low-margin business model under which some 'major' chains operate will offer minimum wage, part-time jobs, offering no net benefit to our neighbourhoods. Time and time again, we've seen that these race-to-the-bottom businesses only threaten the many small businesses currently operating.

Chasing economic development is fine, but not for ED's sake alone. And if we're going to talk about spending money on ED in the core, let's talk about development (like housing and good jobs) that will get people to move here, rather than just stop by for a pint of milk on the way home.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:42:21

Anybody hear anything about the Big Bee ( or is it Big Bear?) convenience store people negotiating to open a super market in Jackson Sqaure utilizing the $650,000 grant money?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 23:30:45 in reply to Comment 73833

I've heard the rumour and have been told by trusted sources that it's not true. That said, there are major grocers kicking the JS tires.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 12:48:08 in reply to Comment 73833

Staying away from the 'I miss the halcyon days of JS...', the fact is that getting a solid tenant in that facility...or the 'City Centre'...would be the best thing that's happened to that mall in Godknowshowlong.

(And for the record, no, I'm not referring to WalMart. I'd rather the downtown went a shiteload more upscale than that, thankyouverymuch.)

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 13:04:15 in reply to Comment 73834

Weren't there hints that the new owner of City Centre wanted to open up the James st side of the building as was done to Toronto's Eaton Centre? Doing so with a supermarket there would be great for James right across from the "new" Lister block.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 13:19:56

I've been struggling with this since first getting MyStoneyCreek's email. In general, I tend to feel a lot like Borelli - I really don't like (Fortinos-styled) supermarkets and don't know that I want to pledge tax dollars to support the industry. There are obviously a lot of small grocers downtown (Asian, Portuguese etc), but not a lot of selection of wider staple goods. That leaves some going to Giant Tiger, others to Hasty Markets, and doesn't leave a lot that's cheap, nutritious or local.

I have to wonder if we couldn't achieve something different here. Larry and Capitalist have a very valid point about subsidizing private businesses - it's rarely good for anyone but the owners of the business in question. If we're going to pledge public funds, let's make sure it's for something the public has a real stake in.

What might I suggest? The formation of a Hamilton food co-op. There's already smaller ones in existence (I'm on the email list of one which orders organic food at wholesale prices) and plenty of other communities have co-ops as their main supermarkets. This could offer both the selection and low prices needed, along with maintaining community control. There's other benefits too - such as allowing members to pay for groceries with work instead of money (pretty essential in poor communities). Finally, this offers a lot more options for expansion (syndication) of the model beyond one or two large stores into a network of local food providers with lots of smaller outlets in residential areas.

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By TH (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 14:00:22

While I support small, independent grocers, I also see the need for a grocery store that offers extended, if not 24 hour service. I realise there are "convenience stores" that are open 24 hours, but the prices are far from affordable. Someone mentioned mini-Sobeys in Toronto, and I certainly see that working for downtown Hamilton, especially closer to Corktown, where there is nothing but the Hasty Market. Not everyone works conventional hours, or has a car. For someone using public transit, this would be a great help. I also think it's a worthwhile investment for the city in general.

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By Just asking (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 17:25:17

Why not a food co-op? Many people have to rely on the foodbanks, which do nothing to empower people, it is a charity mentality, which does nothing to develop skills toward self efficiency. People need to discuss the poverty industry!

Why not develop areas to grow our own food, to teach others how to do this? If it became a workers co-op, then the workers themselves contribute to all business decisions.

We have been brainwashed to beleive tht only the capitalist mantra is the right way, if a workers co-op porduces a product that people want, then is that not considered the free market?

The giant spider has people divided, opposed to joining together in common interest to change what is wrong. Too many hungry people in our community, who cannot afford to even buy groceries.

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By Ed (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 17:35:02

Perfect spot for a 24 hour full serviced grocery store, that could be built with a parking garage, as well as fix all four sides by providing a street wall...

Would be the block of James ST S, Agusta ST, Hughson ST and Young..
It could provide the parking for the current businesses, as well as maybe offer a wine shop/wine bar on Agusta with the pubs already there..
A grand entrance on James St. certainly filling a missing tooth on that street.
I do realize that that there is an independant grocer there, but prices are high selection is terrible especially as they cater to a large senior population as did the IGA before.
This would allow spin-offs for a very under-serviced area.

I was excited to at least see an attempt to lure a much needed and beloved emporium of nurishment. If done right, this could be a wonderful thing..
I've lived in this area for a few years after returning from Toronto, and it's a nice place to be. I'm used to my urban Toronto living and walk mostly, and through this lot at least six times a day.
I do think it would bring out more street life as people in all the surrounding buildings would be using it almost daily.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 21:47:05

Two locations come immediately to mind:

(i) the Kresge's/bingo hall, and (ii) the former Shopper's on James North.

I'm not sure downtown development absolutely hinges on having a big supermarket open up, but it's kind of like having a Starbucks move in; it's a sign that a neighbourhood has turned a corner.

Anyway, I hope it happens, but only if it's done right: urban format; integrated into the streetwall; little or no surface parking; and mixed-use [if that's even legal in Hamilton].

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2012 at 22:35:30

I think that old Shoppers lot would be good for LCBO.. maybe with some selection beyond the utter garbage offered by the Jackson Square location.

Love the idea of the James/Augusta block as a supermarket.

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By WM_Greeter (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 22:46:07 in reply to Comment 73912

Lister Block would have been a great spot for a new LCBO.. Or Sobeys Express.. Or any retail that wasn't a City-subsidized/run 'business'.

Instead, lucky downtowners can enjoy a Tourism Hamilton booth. Yep. Great.

The soon-to-be-empty Right House could be a great LCBO as well. Let's work on that before IT becomes the next Lister.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 09:04:06 in reply to Comment 73915

I spoke with LCBO about downtown Hamilton. They are apparently "actively looking for a suitable location to build a larger format store than the Jackson Square location"

Which I immediately read to mean - a brand new single storey building with a huge parking lot...

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By WM_Greeter (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 22:42:26

I'm betting this $650,000 goes to WalMart for a WestHarbour mega store being held under wraps by City Hall. Just Wait!

We've already paid to clean up and service their Centennial/QEW lands that the 'obviously' financially-hurting Walmart couldn't apparently afford, so why wouldn't they come back for seconds?

There's a Sucker born every minute, most of whom end up working for the City of Hamilton!

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 22:59:58

Rather than spending $650,000 straight away to try to entice a large supermarket chain to set up shop in downtown Hamilton, a helpful and less expensive first step would be for the City of Hamilton Economic Development Department to conduct or commission a survey of existing downtown residents plus people who have committed to purchasing condo units being constructed in the downtown area to gauge the demand and preferred location for a large downtown supermarket. It does not need to be an elaborate or lengthy survey. For example, the following nine questions would only take a person one or two minutes to answer:

  1. Do you live in downtown Hamilton now?
  2. If no to question #1, will you be moving to downtown Hamilton within the next three years?
  3. Are you in favour of a new large supermarket in downtown Hamilton?
  4. Where do you do your grocery shopping now?
  5. Would you change your existing grocery shopping patterns to shop at a large downtown supermarket?
  6. What is your ideal location for a downtown supermarket?
  7. Would you shop at a large downtown supermarket even if was not at your ideal location?
  8. What method of transportation would you use to get to and from a large downtown supermarket?
  9. What is your annual household income and family size?

If the survey results indicate a significant, growing demand for a large downtown supermarket, the Economic Development Department could make the report available to existing grocery store operators in Hamilton and large supermarket chains and follow up with any interested parties.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2012-02-07 23:03:42

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 07:39:58 in reply to Comment 73918

  1. Yes
  2. N/A
  3. Yes
  4. Walmart on Upper James, No Frills on Main, Fortinos on Dundurn, Farmer's market when I can
  5. Yes
  6. Mentioned above (somewhere south of Main ideally, between James and Wellington)
  7. Yes, as long as it's within 1-2km of my home
  8. Foot or car depending on how many groceries will be purchased

To go back on topic. I know I'm in the minority here but I feel that even something like a Walmart grocery store or supercentre is something that we need. Why? Because it's still an economically strapped area. Because it's a business. Because we don't have a lot of stores that sell many things, or stores that sell what I need downtown. For the life of me, I can't buy underwear, socks, undershirts, milk, bread, eggs, cheese or other things cheaply, easily, or at all in the core.

The reality is, at least in my opinion, that something is better than nothing. It may put a bit of a squeeze on local businesses but business is an industry of survival of the fittest. There's plenty of businesses that are niche markets that the chain's can't provide which will continue to operate with or without a big chain store in the core. I stand by previous statements I've made - look at other large downtowns. They have chain stores and independent stores side by side.

I'm looking for things that are affordable and available. If I run out of bread on a Sunday night or I am making an early breakfast, I either go without or have to run down to to the convenience store and pay a premium. Once I ran out of milk and a bag of 1% was 7.99 there. That's not affordable. Being able to run to a grocery store a couple of blocks away, which has extended hours or is open 24 hours would help me a lot. I also work shiftwork out of town and sometimes am leaving early in the morning and coming home late, after the grocery stores are closed. I then have to wait until either the weekend, or go out of my way up to the 24 hour Metro on Upper James or the other one in Westdale to get what I need, which isn't terribly convenient. Or, what I've done before is shop at a grocery store in Mississauga, and spend my money there.

Sorry about a bit of rambling, but since the thread has become more of a 'pros and cons of a chain store in the core' I thought I'd give my 2 cents. Remember: chain store's aren't evil, even if they are large entities. Not every business has to be a small self-run business.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2012-02-08 07:40:53

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 09:17:35 in reply to Comment 73932

I don't know that you're the minority, Dwntnr, and that's what worries me. A WalMart in our core is NOT the development that downtown needs. A box store surrounded by a massive parking lot is a waste of prime space, and will depress already low wages downtown.

Sure, you'll be able to get milk for $3.99 and bread at 8pm on a Thursday, but that comes at the cost of eliminating decent-paying, fulltime jobs at owner-operated shops and replacing them with minimum wage jobs at an employer who prides itself on not offering full-time employment.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 21:38:53 in reply to Comment 73951

Who said anything about a large parking lot?

Go with me for a minute here...

Let's say that Wal-Mart moves into the City Centre. We get an anchor tenant into the building and into the core. Across the street, there's a large parkade. Let's say that WM gives you a voucher for 1 or 2 hours free parking with purchase. You've now got cheap and available goods, jobs and so on. No need for a big parking lot, we've converted the empty expanse of the City Centre, and we draw a ton more people downtown. Further to that, they may see the farmer's market and go in, grab a movie at the theatre, get a bite to eat... I'm not thinking this is so bad.

Further to your point about decent paying full-time jobs. Wal-mart pays the minimum wage as mandated by law and have plenty of full- and part-time employees. They do pay more than minimum wage if you have experience.

I'd say that the jobs run by sole-proprietors are probably the same, only (possibly) with reduced hours because they can't afford to run at the hours a big box store can.

I think people are too quick to try and stomp out large retailers due to a few boutique shops.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 07, 2012 at 23:32:55

I can't help but think that King/Bay would be prime spot for a grocery store looking to crack downtown. Either on one of the mega-parking lots that apparently McMaster or the School Board refuse to develop, or in Jackson Square where the farmers market was for a while....rebuild the Bay St entrance to Jackson Square with a brick facade 'urban Sobeys' format and Bob's your Uncle. King and Bay is striking distance to much of the downtown core and it's daytime office crowd too.

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By Jeff_Stock (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 01:48:02

It would be amazing if Fiesta Farms decided to expand to Hamilton....

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By DownTownDowner (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 08:29:19

The one thing people aren't pointing out is the mini 24 hour grocers in TO and other Places have hugely inflated prices that don't differ much from Hasty Mart.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 09:01:17

I'm pretty inspired that I'm not the only one thinking along the co-op lines, and will blog a lengthier proposal soon. These two points, though, require a prompter response.

it's a grocery store, not a community centre. A community should not have to organize a co-op just to buy affordable food.

Grocery stores are not community centres, and that's part of the problem. One of the great "efficiencies" they've achieved is removing public space from the equation. Historically, the "centre" of Hamilton as a community was the market at King and James, as with countless cities stretching back to ancient times. This community aspect isn't something we should overlook here.

Communities will bear the brunt of organizing this one way or the other, whether they pay for it as a (large) chunk of grocery prices, or as the burden of organizing it themselves. The difference is that in the latter, that effort can be translated into further co-operative, community-based ventures. Especially in areas where people have lots of time and little cash, these kind of options could make a far bigger difference than food banks (as mentioned above), as well as helping people organize co-ops in other markets, holding the promise of putting many of our town's unemployed back to work on their own terms.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 09:25:49

1/4 km, 1/2 km and 1 km walkability radii for current large format stores:

walkability radius

According to walkability guidelines, it's ideal to have a store within 1/2km

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-02-08 09:26:33

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 17:33:55 in reply to Comment 73954

God, it's just so obvious! Ravencliffe needs a WalMart!

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 13:06:06 in reply to Comment 73954

Wow...can I nail it or what? King and Bay. Perfect locale to serve Durand/Central/east side of Strathcona and all the office tower workers at Jackson Square/City Hall etc....

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By KFAS (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 12:07:12

Big Bee is definitely looking for a large format grocery store downtown. Space is the issue.

The Bingo Hall would be ideal. Or the main floor of the Connaught in conjunction with a condo conversion.

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By George (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 14:38:32 in reply to Comment 73981

I think we're supposed to get an announcement in the next few weeks or months in regards to the Connaught, and it would be great to hear about a condo project there coupled with a large grocery store on the main floor.

This could give the Gore park area and its pedestrianization a major boost.

What a terrific way to tie together, James St. N. with the slowly re-emerging Intentional Village.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2012 at 07:16:11 in reply to Comment 74005

There used to be a Loblaws or IGA on the lower level of 110 Main East, but it closed in the late '90s.

On the street level of the building directly to the west, the Connaught, there used to be a 24-Hour restaurant. It also closed in the late '90s.

On the street level of the building directly to the south of that, there used to be another 24-hour restaurant. It also closed in the late '90s.

All of this despite having some of the highest population density in the downtown essentially right on top of those sites (43 storeys residential at 100 Main East, 15 storeys residential at 115 Main East, 15 storeys office space at 110 Main East).

IMHO, there are no easy remedies to this situation. Downtown real estate is sufficiently valuable that building a supermarket there will be expensive, and the downtown population is evidently diffuse enough to make recouping any such investment a challenge.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 13:23:12 in reply to Comment 73981

It's too bad the temporary City Hall office space gutted so much space out of the York side of the City Centre. Although parking would be a tricky concern (and yes, you need some parking for a supermarket), the lower and middle floors of the building that were occupied by Liquidation World and Liquidation Depot, respectively were very spacious and would've been a good scale for a supermarket.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 13:07:27 in reply to Comment 73981

Not to sound like a yuppy, but if they want to go 'large format' I'd love it if they completely re-do their logo and 'brand'.

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By DowntownFoodCoop (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 13:22:54

Hi everyone,
Sorry to comment on this string so late, but there already is a group of downtown Hamiltonians that are working on starting up a local food co-op this year (the UN year of the co-op).
We don't have a name yet, and definitely not a location, but we do have a lot of great ideas and the drive to make this happen.
This is Emma Cubitt - please email me emmacubitt at gmail dot com if you would like to get involved in this grassroots initiative.
This idea sprouted before the incentive idea, and it can definitely continue without it. Co-ops start with community members and partners coming together - although we'll take what we can get!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2012 at 17:30:05 in reply to Comment 73996

There is another small group of us who have also been discussing this at a very preliminary level for quite some time. In March I am going to NYC and will be visiting some co-ops there. The stellar model is of course the Park Slope Co Op but I'm trying to set up meetings with some newer ones to get some ideas.

Grant or no grant, the idea of a co op definitely has merit here :-)

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted February 08, 2012 at 15:35:32

If rumours are true and they close Sir John A. then we have viable location. It will have to work around the co-gen plant there however.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 09:28:30

I think people are too quick to try and stomp out large retailers due to a few boutique shops.

People (like me) are quick to stomp out large retailers, especially those that emulate the WalMart model, because the proof is in the pudding. There is a large body of credible criticism of WalMart's business model, from union-busting, to forced overtime, to predatory pricing. If you don't have much time to do any reading on it, then start with the Wikipedia article, which provides a fair overview.

You don't get to be the biggest company (by revenue) in the world without breaking a few rules, I suppose.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 09, 2012 at 11:18:35 in reply to Comment 74072

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-02-09 11:34:28

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By Entitled (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 13:08:55 in reply to Comment 74079

>>"But there's something that's tied to the 'entitlement' mindset, as well as the 'nobody should have to work for that kind of money' ethos"

So now it's "the 'entitlement' mindset" to think everyone has the right to decent pay and basic dignity in exchange for hard work?

I bet you're loads of fun at parties.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 11:49:49 in reply to Comment 74079

Have you ever thought that you don't get down voted for what you say as much as how you say it, your delivery is very tone deaf, try with a little humility and manners for a change instead of 'lecturing' the 'plebes' from on high.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 12:47:50

Adrian, refer to nobrainer's comments--they are wise.

And please, don't let the touchy topic of big-box retailing be an impediment to indulging yourself: I'm happy to debate this because there is tons of evidence to back up my position.

You should be aware that the critique of the WalMart model goes back well before 2008--the store's expansion (from 1540 US stores in 1990 to 4393 in 2010) was monumental, and the company's legendary pursuit of the lowest (prices, wages, taxes, etc.) has fundamentally reconfigured life in small and medium sized towns and cities the USA.

Since you are apparently familiar with the current retail environment, you should notice that the WalMart model has been adopted by almost every big retailer in Canada--When WalMart came to Canada in 1994, what choice did they have? It's either adapt or die.

Any new-build Canadian Tires', Loblaws', and Zellers' all follow the same big-box supercentre model: cheap, processed food, cheap throwaway clothes from S. Asia, cheap Chinese-made appliances and electronics, and all this can be paid for with a WalMart/CT/PC/HBC credit card, to boot!

So please don't hand me "entitlement" and "spillover from 2008" pile.

WalMart has fairly earned its reputation.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 09, 2012 at 14:05:25 in reply to Comment 74086

This is a great read... THe problem with wal mart goes way WAY beyond cashier wages and squeezing out ma and pa. The real story is how they've completely rewritten the supply chain story, sending effects from the very bottom to the very top.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 05:38:51 in reply to Comment 74094

A fascinating article. There's lots to be learned there on both sides of the coin.

Does Wal-Mart force their suppliers to be lean, fast and efficient? Yes. Maybe these companies were too bloated or were sucked in by the thoughts of being showcased on the international markets but didn't stop to think about if they should.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 14:16:50 in reply to Comment 74094

Wow, thanks for that link, Sean. That article had me at "Are we shopping our way straight to the unemployment line?"

Good question, and makes you consider if WalMart-ism is the antithesis to Fordism (as in FoMoCo, not Gravy Ford).

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 15:39:59 in reply to Comment 74096

The federal debt is denominated in Canadian dollars.

The federal government "finds" about 5% more of these dollars every year for its spending.

Yet, Canadians are told that if we aren't frugal, we will soon run out of these "printed" Canadian dollars to pay interest charges.

How can it be that we can find new Canadian dollars to pay higher salaries, transfer payments, yet can't find extra money to cut taxes for households?

With record household debt and 7.6% unemployment, households need a break. Cutting income taxes, GST and payroll taxes would allow Canadians to save more, spend more and thus create more jobs.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 09, 2012 at 17:28:38 in reply to Comment 74102

uh oh what have I done

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 22:28:09 in reply to Comment 74110

to be honest I always find A Smith's comments interesting. Moreso after the recent nonsense around here.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted February 09, 2012 at 15:01:57

Cannon Knitting Mills - Already owned by HRCC in need of $8M - $12M in reno's. Premi alredy on as architect, no? He has food experience from the Farmers' Market redo and hopefully he's learned a few things from that job,

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 09, 2012 at 17:29:03 in reply to Comment 74099

kinda close to food basics though

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 09:10:56

Those people are now going to be willing to settle for less, at least until something better comes along. What's the solution?

I know I'm gonna open a huge can of worms here, and put myself on some hit-lists, but I think the answer is fairly straightforward: either protectionism, or working to make globalization equitable.

Thus far, the latest phase of globalization (since the late 1990s) has been fully directed by the narrow designs of multinational corporations that are focussed on profit and cruelly efficient in achieving that end.

As that excellent WalMart article touched on, the behaviour citizens/consumers has been central in legitimizing this destructive race to the bottom (which benefits only shareholders). As such, we as consumers have adopted the amoral, instrumentally rational approach to our decisions as corporations have: a $3 gallon of pickles that you didn't know you needed justifies the piddly wage, no benefits, and no job security earned by the person (your neighbour) who puts it on the shelf.

When we as citizens begin to tally all of the things we've given up to get that $3 jar of pickles, perhaps behaviour will change, but those cheap pickles have already started a feedback loop that will be hard to break:

Cheap Pickles-->Low Wages-->Less Disposable Income-->Need to buy cheap pickles.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2012-02-10 09:14:30

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 11:24:37 in reply to Comment 74146

>> either protectionism, or working to make globalization equitable.

Could you name a country that uses protectionist policies to increase living standards?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 09:13:40

Also, Costco rules. They're the only big-box store I support, and precisely for the reasons Ryan cited.

Big-box consumption need not be all bad. It's where the savings are found (low-cost displays, economies of scale, warehouse setting, membership fees vs. low wages, no job security, predatory pricing) that matters.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 12:20:33

Easy, Smith: China.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2012 at 13:42:19 in reply to Comment 74155

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2012 at 12:34:33

Looks like the old Barn location at Hess and York might be opening up in the near future:

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 10:04:42 in reply to Comment 74156

I don't remember the details, but when the A&P bought and then subsequently closed the Barn, it was on the condition that no other supermarket open on that site for the foreseeable future ~ 25 years if I recall correctly.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2012 at 05:28:40 in reply to Comment 74178

This is a pretty typical ploy. Happened with cinemas downtown, and it happens routinely with buyouts of businesses: the founder has to sign a 'non-competition' document.

No problem; if we had a far better base of 'community activism', then pressure could be applied where necessary to have the community interests looked after, rather than the default corporate ones.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-02-12 06:09:48

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 17:14:15 in reply to Comment 74178

That's AWFUL, Dr. A.!! It's like some kind of commercial Curse. -??

I can't understand why this should be such a problem. Everybody eats. There is not a lot of local competition. It would seem to be an ideal situation for a small to medium sized store to open & make a tidy profit.

Why do we need to pay a Corp. to open a store & make money with little or no competition?

Hamilton seems to make a habit of doing this. (Is it possible that some of Hamilton's 'attitudes' & exercises in hoop jumping have made enterprises less than interested? If the perception is there, that you will be chasing your tail for years to get your store open...Who's going to go through that nonsense? Maybe the GHA just need to start dealing with potential investors in a straight forward way, instead of paying them to open here?)

No Frills type stores have always been more flexible in what they purchase & who/what the customer demographics are in the areas that they open stores. They are prepared to have more ethnic & specialty products available to meet the needs of their customers & really good produce at decent prices. I'm sorry to hear that a local one is such a mess. If it had some competition, it would find a reason to be a better, cleaner store.

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2012-02-11 17:35:50

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 15:38:58 in reply to Comment 74178

...but since A&P no longer exists in Canada, is it still applicable?

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2012 at 07:31:32 in reply to Comment 74215

Metro bought A&P's holdings. I would guess that it would be on them.

Yale Properties, Prime Properties, Hart, Metro... who would've imagined 50 years ago that Montreal would have given so much to Hamilton's downtown?

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 17:19:40 in reply to Comment 74215

The corporation that took over from A & P., is still in operation, bigger & 'better' (??!!) than ever. I guess it's still applicable. A & P., The Barn Marts are all now Metro stores & part of the same conglomerate.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2012 at 17:39:27

Also, a long shot: Could it be that downtown Hamilton is, from a demographic standpoint, not as economically vibrant as large-scale retailers might prefer?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2012 at 05:38:30 in reply to Comment 74235

I think you have to go back to the historical realities: there have been two 'large-scale retailers' (ie 'supermarkets') downtown over the past fifty years. (I am not ignoring entities such as Corsini's or the 'neighbourhood IGA on James South, just being arbitrary, given what the original article about the $650,000 bounty focused on.) The Barn at Hess and York, and a Dominion (?) in Terminal Towers (now 'Effort'). I remember The Barn location being busy. It was viable. I don't have any information on the TT location.

But times change, shopping habits change, the market changes. I can't comment on what the 'large-scale retailers' might prefer in terms of catchment, but a) that's why I'd suggested a community-driven cooperative effort, and b) when the development downtown finally begins, with increased density comes a need to fulfill the needs of these new residents. So we shouldn't just be looking at right now, but also down the road. All things being equal, we're going to need a proper supermarket in the core.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-02-12 06:11:18

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2012 at 05:45:01

Here's an interesting Letter to the Editor at The Spec:

Support downtown’s existing groceries

Recent articles lament the lack of a grocery store downtown. Yet there at least three grocery stores downtown that I am aware of. Perhaps they are not counted because they are not part of the chains, or perhaps because they are Asian markets.

Yet they carry all the necessary food items. Produce, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, pasta and grocery items are all available, and usually higher quality and fresher than the chains.

So why does the city find it necessary to subsidize the large chains, rather than support local small business with subsidies for expansion?

Jose Kaufman, Hamilton

There seems to be a bias against 'chains'. There seems to be a reluctance to have 'competition'. Which, having spent a life in retail, I understand. I am on-board with the idea of a subsidy being inappropriate, especially if we're just trying to lure a 'major'. And I guess that I have a bias towards what a 'supermarket' can provide, as opposed to 'supercornerstores'. (Which I've shopped at no matter where I've lived, supported them in good community conscience...but eventually got the bulk of my groceries at a 'chain' store.)

Again, I think this is a super topic for discussion, because not only does it mobilize people's imaginations about their own communities, it helps reduce the conflation at play. But we do need to be having these discussions in the same room, if only to provide a much-needed imprimatur to the dialogue.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-02-12 06:12:12

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2012 at 20:27:06

“We don’t need to send people to third world countries,” he added. “We don’t need to send them all around the world, when there are issues and needs right in downtown Hamilton that we can be helping to meet.”

There you have it, folks. Downtown Hamilton is a perfectly good third world simulator.

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By Hey Norton (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 20:55:12

The spot beside the Pigott that used to be Robinsons would be a prime spot for a grocery do ya think?

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