By Don Bradley
The owner of Red Bridge Shopping Center did his best Tuesday night to assure a crowded room that every effort would be made to find a new grocery tenant for the recently-closed Sun Fresh store.
Then came the “But if…”, and that brought groans.
“No!” No!” “We want a grocery store!” “We need a grocery store!”
A clear consensus. No other retail, no service industry, not another restaurant. The grocery store went up with Red Bridge Shopping Center back in 1959 as a grocery store and neighbors want it to stay that way.
Owen Buckley, president of Lane4 Property Group which owns the center at 11212 Holmes Road, told the full house at the Center Planning and Development Council meeting that he is talking with every grocery operator in the region.
“You name it, we’ve talked to them,” Buckley said. “It’s not like we’re sitting on our hands.”
The problem, he said, is that the growth period of smaller “niche” grocers, such as Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, has run its course.
“The pendulum is now swinging back to big stores,” Buckley said.
Which the old Sun Fresh site is not. The building is 35,000 square feet. By comparison, the Henhouse store in Leawood, is 90,000 square feet, more than two and a half times what Red Bridge can offer.
Buckley said he would continue to talk with Sprouts, Aldi and Trader Joe’s. Someone in the audience asked about the possibility of Walmart putting in one of its smaller neighborhood markets.
“I talked to Walmart today,” Buckley told the audience, adding that he had also talked to Aldi on Tuesday.
Ideally, Buckley said, he would like a grocery store befitting the neighborhood.
“Like Brookside has the Brookside Market, I would like to see the Red Bridge Market,” Buckley said.
He also said Lane4 would consider tearing down the old building and putting up a new, much larger store, such as what Hen House or HyVee would require, perhaps even facing it north toward the rest of the shopping center.
Then he talked about the challenge of selling the big boys that the Red Bridge neighborhood is a growth area. That was the problem with Balls Food, which operated the Sun Fresh store. The company, Buckley said, did not see the area as one worthy of costly enhancements.
They particularly didn’t like that it offered few shoppers to the east because of the golf course and park land. Lane4 grew frustrated with Balls’ reluctance to remodel the store.
Buckley rejects that Red Bridge is not a growth area, but acknowledged that too many residents were using Sun Fresh as a convenience store.
At one point, Buckley mentioned the possibility of apartments on the site.
That really brought in groans.
“But don’t worry,” he said. “We’re in for this community.”