Aldi U.S. next week will welcome the first shoppers of a distinct new store anchoring a mixed-use project near Center City Philadelphia.
While the German-owned discounter, with U.S. headquarters in Batavia, Ill., has been opening new stores at a rapid pace for years now, the new unit at 1300 Fairmont Ave. in Philadelphia’s North Broad neighborhood is different than most in location and design. The facade is rendered in panels of orange that highlights its position as a ground-floor anchor of the newly built 14-story, 478-unit apartment building near the intersection of Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue. Its design includes large windows for increased natural lighting and locally inspired wall decals inside, including maps of historic downtown Philadelphia and some of the city’s famous monuments, such as the Liberty Bell, the company said. And at more than 15,000 square feet, it’s the largest of Aldi’s 11 Philadelphia locations.
Aldi was said to have signed a lease to occupy the space more than two years ago, making the store one of the most anticipated of its fleet and fairly unusual for the brand, whose typical locations are in suburban settings near other grocery stores and tend to conform to standard design prototypes.
“Opening new grocery stores in the heart of a bustling city doesn’t happen every day, and we’re proud to provide even more Philadelphia residents easy access to fresh groceries at unbeatable prices,” said Bob Grammer, Center Valley division VP for Aldi. “We’ve been serving Philadelphia customers for more than 25 years, and we continue to open new stores in a variety of locations—cities, suburbs and rural areas—because savvy shoppers want Aldi in their communities. We are excited to open our first Philadelphia store in a mixed-use development, and we look forward to future expansion in the city.”
The $190 million 1300 Fairmont project was developed by RAL Development on an empty lot in the North Broad neighborhood, which has been revitalizing itself behind what the community development partnership calls “meds and eds," or healthcare and education, owing to the neighborhood’s proximity to Drexel University and Temple University, and to several center city hospitals that have also new development to city neighborhoods.
Several other food retailers have been discovering Philadelphia’s neighborhoods for compact new concepts in recent years, including Sprouts Farmers Market, which built a flagship area store in the Lincoln Square project in 2018; The Giant Co.’s Giant Heirloom Market concept, which has opened three neighborhood stores in Philadelphia in the past two years and is reportedly eyeing a fourth in the famous Strawbridge’s department store building at 801 Market St.; and as in other U.S. cities, Trader Joe's and Target. Even the West Coast discounter Grocery Outlet appears to want to have a part, said to have interest in a North Philadelphia urban residential project.
Sprouts Farmers Markets’ rapid expansion landed the upstart fresh food retailer in the heart of Philadelphia, where it opened its first store Sept. 19 in the high-profile Lincoln Square development. Located at the corner of Broad and Carpenter streets in a restored freight railroad shed that once was a stop along President Lincoln’s funeral route, the new store is part of a mixed-use development that also includes a newly built 320-unit apartment building and other retail tenants, including a forthcoming Target. The project is bringing new life to the well-located but long underused neighborhood between South Philadelphia and Center City.
For Sprouts Chief Operations Officer Dan Sanders, the new store represents a bit of a homecoming. Sanders at one time was president of Malvern, Pa.-based Acme Markets, and has since hired one of his Acme successors—Dan Croce—as EVP of the region. “We have a lot of people very experienced in the trade who know this market well," Sanders told WGB in an interview. "We also have 160 people on staff in the store, and virtually every one grew up in this area.”
According to Sanders, Sprouts' better-for-you appeal is reaching older shoppers who are pursuing better foods for health reasons and younger consumers who tend to choose sustainable and healthy foods as a lifestyle statement.
“Millennials are particularly interested in the stories behind the products, responsible sourcing, sustainability and looking at the retail stores through a different lens,” he said. “They’re not as product-loyal as people who grew up in my generation might have been, but they are fascinated by stories and we’re lucky at Sprouts to have a lot of products like that.”
While Sprouts officials insist they see conventional supermarkets as their primary competitors, that doesn’t mean other formats won’t see Sprouts as a rival. Natural-focused personal-care aisles are likely to post a threat to drugstores and other specialty food stores with personal-care sections, such as Whole Foods.
WGB observed a diverse group of shoppers on opening morning, many appearing happy to have finally come to experience a store they’d only heard of before. More than a few curious members of the trade were also in to have a look.
“All the comments we’ve heard have been very positive, and it seems like there’s almost a pent-up demand for a store offering great value and healthier choices,” Sanders said. “I’ve been in this industry for a long time. If I were to take a clean sheet of paper and sketch out what the future needed to be, it would look a lot like this.”