Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Community Matters – in and around Tredyffrin

Community Matters . . . in and around Tredyffrin

In one of the biggest property deals since the start of the global financial crisis, the Australian company Centro Properties Groups has agreed to sell its 588 US shopping malls to private equity giant Blackstone Group for $9.4 billion.

The local connection – Centro owns Chesterbrook Shopping Center and Valley Fair Shopping Center! I assume the existing retail leases in these shopping centers will pass with the transfer of sale. Many folks are looking forward to McKenzies Brew House restaurant plans for the old Charlie Brown location at Valley Fair Shopping Center. Here’s hoping that Blackstone will breathe new life into Chesterbrook Shopping Center and find a tenant for the empty Genuardi’s grocery store. And let’s not forget that this corporate sale could mean significant transfer tax revenue to the school district and the township!

In case you missed this one . . . in order to make shelf room for new products, the Pennsylvania State liquor stores is having special discount sale, starting today. Approximately 400 items have been marked down to clearance prices until they are gone.

Last night was the Board of Supervisors Meeting. Notes of the evening included Mike Heaberg’s swearing in as new supervisor by Judge Jeremy Blackburn; recognition of the 300th anniversary of the historic Baptist Church in the Great Valley and certificates of appreciation for volunteer service to Grace Keffer, Bob Haver and Molly Duffy.

By Board of Supervisors appointment, a Sidewalk Subcommittee was formed in March 2010 to look at resident’s wants and needs of sidewalks in the community. The process included public meetings, resident sidewalk survey, observations and discussion and Sidewalks Subcommittee chair Tory Snyder presented the findings and recommendations last night at the Board of Supervisors Meeting. (Here is a link to the recommendations). Surprising some of us in the audience, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for the board to accept the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations and move it to the Planning Commission to create a draft ordinance. Michelle Kichline seconded the motion and it passed unanimously. Hat’s off to the supervisors for this progressive, proactive show of support for the community! (As an aside, the Sidewalk Subcommittee Green Routes Network recommendation includes St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk in the plan.)

In addition to crafting a draft ordinance in regards to the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations, the Planning Commissioners is drafting an amendment to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance to give the Board of Supervisors final land development authority. Although there is a Public Hearing on land development authority scheduled for March 21, it was agreed there would be no final decision on that matter until after the sidewalk ordinance is resolved.

I was notified of a an updated ‘Best High School in Pennsylvania’ list and am pleased to report that Conestoga High School continues to receive high marks. Each year, “Newsweek” magazine ranks the nation’s top 1,600 high schools–that’s only six percent of all public high schools in the country. This ranking helps parents and educators set standards for themselves. In 2010, 33 high schools from Pennsylvania, including Conestoga High School, made the list. These schools received high marks from both “Newsweek” and “U.S. News & World Report.”

According to the 2011 update, “Conestoga High School is ranked as the No. 502 high school in the nation by “Newsweek” and as No. 79 by “U.S. News & World Report.” It offers more Advanced Placement courses than any other high school, public or private, in Pennsylvania, and had 37 National Merit semifinalists in 2010. . . “ Congratulations Conestoga High School and Tredyffrin-Easttown School District!

Speaking of Conestoga High School . . . the curtains go up tonight on the student production of Phantom of the Opera. The show will run March 1 – 6, click here for ticket information. Phantom is one of my all-time favorite musicals – best wishes to the cast & break a leg!

That is it for now. I look forward to your thoughtful comments and please email me at if you have news or thoughts to share.

Be Careful What You Wish For . . . Bottom Dollar Food Coming to Chesterbrook

Back on July 30, I wrote the following article about the Bottom Dollar Food grocery store chain coming to the Philadelphia area and opening a store in King of Prussia. In the article, Discount Grocery Store ‘Bottom Dollar Food’ Coming to Philadelphia Area. I commented on the differences between the newly opened Wegmans vs the ‘no-frills’ discount grocery chain, Bottom Dollar.

Wegmans opening this summer, fell on the heels of the closing of Genuardi’s in Chesterbrook. There are other empty stores in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center and those that have remained since Genuardi’s closing have struggled. I heard that since the closing of Genuardi’s that the Hair Cuttery is loosing an average of $600/wk in revenue. The emptiness is particularly noticeable at lunchtime. Many in the community have speculated and wondered as to the future of the real estate.

We don’t have to speculate any longer. Today, I received news that Bottom Dollar Food has signed a 5-year lease with Centro Properties and will open in the old Genuardi’s location. (Not sure of the opening date). When reviewing the location plans for Chesterbrook’s Bottom Dollar, I noted they will subdivide the Genuardi’s space. Originally, Genuardi’s had approx. 38,500 sq. ft. of space but Bottom Dollar is only leasing 26,000 sq. ft leaving a space of 12,500 sq. ft. (next to Fitness Together) still available. The original entry of Genuardi’s is now in the ‘available space’, suggesting that Bottom Dollar will move their entry location.

In the last paragraph of my July 30th post, I asked the question, ” . . . would people rather see an empty anchor store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as opposed to some kind of discount store?” And here we are 3 months later, with Bottom Dollar discount food chain coming to Chesterbrook!

In catching up on some of the local business news, I was reading about the local grocery market and was interested to read about a new grocery chain coming to the area, Bottom Dollar Food.

We know that Wegmans next step on their expansion plan is King of Prussia (I think the old golf course off Swedesford, correct?) so I was curious if our area would be getting one of these discount grocery stores. Bottom Dollar Food is a discount grocer that’s part of the Food Lion store chain and has said that it will open 21 stores in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, creating 600 jobs. A friend recently visited our new Wegmans and asked management how many employees in that location — yes, 600.

This is a significant expansion for the Salisbury, N.C.-based Bottom Dollar Food, which has 28 stores in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. I did a bit of research on the company – they opened their first store in 2005, 5 years ago! They seemed to have discovered a niche market-place by keeping their stores very simple in design. One of the ways they are able to drive the prices down to bargain-basement level is by removing the fancy, expensive displays. Interesting concept given Wegmans over-the-top approach! They keep the isles wide, displays simple and have a color-coding system showing the various levels of mark-downs. Special ’bargain’ areas in the stores are indicated with color-coded signage. Kind of reminds me of the Syms approach – you read the price tag and the date determines the price. The longer the item remains at Syms, the lower the price.

Bottom Dollar Food will open their first Philadelphia area store in the fall. The president of the Bottom Dollar Food Meg Ham, reports that “Bottom Dollar Food has great potential in the market as we believe it is underserved in the soft-discount grocer arena”. Interesting.

However, the most interesting point of the article was the list of new store locations, including 197 E. Dekalb Pike, Upper Merion (King of Prussia). Short of driving up 202 north and looking for the address, I’m wondering if that is the Genuardi’s store on 202? I looked at all the stores on the list and unfortunately a Chesterbrook location was not on the list. But that poses an interesting question, would people rather see an empty anchor store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as opposed to some kind of discount store?

Community Matters Mentioned in Philadelphia Inquirer front page article!

I looked cover to cover in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer for the article on Genuardi’s, but nothing. However this morning the article appears on the front page of today’s paper! An interesting article, the writer explains the dynamics of the supermarket world, in particular the downturn of Genuardi’s grocery chain and the threat that Wegmans poses to local supermarkets. I was so excited to see ‘Community Matters’ get a mention – it’s validating, especially because there are some who may question the value (or influence) of a blog.

With a root canal scheduled for later this morning, I will take this as a good omen for the day!

Genuardi’s is closing another supermarket

By Kathy Boccella
Inquirer Staff Writer

Here we go again.The venerable Genuardi’s supermarket chain is closing another store. This time it’s the Towamencin Village Square market in Lansdale, which will shut down Saturday, nearly 20 years to the day after it opened. Lately, it seems as if every month brings a new Genuardi’s closing. Last spring, the Voorhees store went out of business, followed by one in the Edgemont Square Shopping Center in Newtown Square in July and two in August – in Tredyffrin’s Chesterbrook community and the Glen Eagle Shopping Center in Concord.

The problem for Genuardi’s is that Philadelphia is “overstored,” said Richard George, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. From Walgreens to Wawa to Wegmans, a bounty of food retailers is making it hard for traditional stores to stay afloat.

“There are too many stores selling food in too concentrated an area,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News, a food-industry publication.

Genuardi’s spokeswoman Maryanne Crager agreed that the competitive array was staggering. “At one time a drugstore might have one little aisle with chips. Now they sell yogurt, cheese. Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie, and the pie is only so big,” she said, citing such nontraditional food sellers as Target and CVS.

With the latest closing, Genuardi’s now has 31 supermarkets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, down from 39 when monster food company Safeway Inc. bought the chain from the family of founder Gaspare Genuardi and his wife, Josephine, in 2001. The Lansdale store, whose lease expires at the end of the month, was closed because it was not as profitable as expected, Crager said. The company will try to find openings at other Genuardi’s for the store’s 45 employees, as it has done at previously shuttered markets, but not everyone is able or willing to relocate, she said. She would not say how many workers had been laid off.

The job outlook, not surprisingly, is not great. Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776, said grocery stores had slowed or stopped hiring to offset lower profits.

Many of the new stores coming into the region are lower-end markets that pay minimum wage. And most supermarket employees are part time, working 25 to 30 hours a week, he said.

While Genuardi’s is downsizing, another chain is cementing its reputation as a local category killer. Wegmans, whose massive take-and-go prepared-food sections are magnets to busy suburbanites, opened a 130,000-square-foot megastore in Malvern in July, bringing to six the number of regional Wegmans, three of them in the greater King of Prussia area. Wegmans and other upscale niche retailers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are muscling out middle-of-the-road supermarkets such as Genuardi’s, say the experts.

“Pathmark is closing, Super Freshes are closing. It’s that big middle that are neither the low-price guy like Wal-Mart and Save-A-Lot, yet don’t have the cachet of Wegmans and Trader Joe’s,” George said. “So people say, ‘Why do I shop there?’ ”

At Genuardi’s in Lansdale, few were shopping on a recent afternoon, despite a 20 percent-off sale that had already cleaned out many aisles. Employees looked as grim as pallbearers.

“It’s very, very sad,” said customer Nancy Demetrius, a mother of four who lives around the corner from the supermarket and says she shops there once or twice a week. “They’re very nice people here, very helpful.” She was picking up milk and chili fixings with her 3-year-old daughter, Camryn. The family did most of its shopping at Genuardi’s, she said, even renting movies at the Red Box out front. “At parties, if we needed rolls, soda, we’d run to Genuardi’s,” she said. She said she would miss the quality of the meats and produce. “Excellent, excellent.” Her children will miss the free cookies from the bakery.

The Lansdale area is a microcosm of the “overstore” phenomenon. There is a Super Fresh less than a mile away, although that, too, is closing, and an Acme and Giant nearby. A new ShopRite is expected to rise not far from Genuardi’s. Demetrius said she would probably shop at Giant. “It’s cheaper, but the quality is not as good,” she said. “You do what you have to do.”

Though the Lansdale store seemed robust to shoppers, other locations languished before finally going dark. The Chesterbrook Genuardi’s in Tredyffrin was “dated” and not maintained, said Pattye Benson, a Malvern bed-and-breakfast owner, who raves on her Community Matters blog about the gelato kiosk, 800 kinds of beer and large take-out section at the new Wegmans.

“Safeway took absolutely no interest in maintaining that store. . . . It just went downhill,” she said.

For many people, Genuardi’s was never the same after the corporate giant bought it from Gaspare and Josephine’s children, who transformed their vegetable garden in Norristown into one of the area’s most beloved businesses.

The company replaced many favorite Genuardi’s brands with Safeway products and downgraded two benchmarks of the Genuardi’s stores – produce and deli items, Metzger said. The Genuardi family “ran that store with terrific products and tremendous customer service,” said George. Safeway “lost sight of the customer,” he said. “Genuardi’s,” he said, “used to stand for something.”

Still, some Genuardi’s stores are now busier than ever and offer more locally grown produce, as Gaspare and Josephine did in the old days. Smaller than many other market leaders, between April 2009 and March 2010 Genuardi’s was the fifth-highest-grossing supermarket company in the region, with 38 stores and $983 million in sales. The leader was ShopRite, whose 67 stores earned $2.6 billion, according to Food Trade News.

Wegmans’ six stores had $364 million in sales, making it the sixth-largest in the area. Companies showing the biggest decline were Acme, which lost its number-one post after 32 years, Genuardi’s, and Giant.

Crager said Genuardi’s had no plans to close more stores but acknowledged the challenges for the chain. Referring back to her pie analogy, she said: “Some of the slices for some operators are getting smaller and smaller. Obviously when you get smaller . . . it becomes more challenging to operate.”

On the bright side, “We’re part of a much larger corporation,” she said.

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