Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Another Supermarket Gone

For those of you that don't know yet, the Sparkle Market on North Wren Drive in Scott Township has closed for good. Although it is in Scott Township, I mention it here in this blog because so many Mt. Lebanon residents have shopped there -- including myself -- because it is right on the border with Mt. Lebanon.

When I found out about it closing, I got upset because it was yet another neighborhood store that people could walk to and do their shopping. I didn't know why it was closing, but it reminded me of when I found out that the Shop N' Save on Cochran Road would be closed and torn down. I grew up in the "Willow Terrace" section of Mt. Lebanon (the area between Jefferson School and the tennis courts) and used to walk to the store as a child. It was only blocks away and was so easy to get to -- especially when there was a snowstorm and the only way you could really get there was by walking!

I later found out that the reason Shop N' Save was closed was to make room for a new Rite Aid to go in it's place. Word on the street was that Rite Aid wanted to be in town to serve the large senior citizen population (i.e. medications) and to sell alcohol in their store -- since it had been rumored that the PA State Legislature was considering changing the archaic laws we have regarding where beer could be sold.

The changes to the law never came about and the Rite Aid actually closed. Although I have never heard any comments contradicting this, I was told that Giant Eagle bought out the property. Why they haven't done anything with this now empty building is anybody's guess, but it really upset me to think that there was a vibrant supermarket in that same location just years ago and now nothing was going on at all.

I have recently found out from one of the other tenants of the same plaza that Sparkle was in that all of the tenants must be out within 2 years because Walgreen's had purchased the property and will be tearing down all of the stores to make room for yet another mega-pharmacy in its place. Beside the loss of another neighborhood supermarket, we will now lose a coffee shop, pizzeria, jewelry store, hair stylist, bank, vacuum repair store and a Chinese restaurant.

I really want to know why we have to have so many darn mega-pharmacies in this town (or near it) at the sacrifice of so many other businesses. The Eckerd on Bower Hill Road displaced 4 businesses and this new Walgreens will get rid of even more!

Is anyone else upset about this or are we all resigned to driving everywhere to do our shopping? I cannot walk to any supermarkets anymore and it infuriates me. One of the reasons that Mt. Lebanon has been considered to be so "charming" is that people can walk everywhere -- schools, parks, churches and stores. You can't walk to any supermarkets anymore and I think it really takes away from our town.
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Blogger Mike Madison said...

I have a hypothesis about this, which I developed after watching Eckerd and Walgreens put up mega-stores on land that (I believe) they own, not rent:

The drug store chains are land-banking. Buy land; put cheap buildings up; hold for X number of years while it appreciates; sell.

I'm speculating; I don't know, for example, whether the tax laws still make this sort of thing attractive. But it's inconceivable to me that Mt. Lebanon, for example, could support the drug stores that we now see in town and on its edges.

September 06, 2005 4:11 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

There's one easy answer - I'll never shop at Walgreens.

I thought the Sparkle Market was just going through the usual problem a market in that location goes through - it's changed hands, what like four times in eight years? I didn't know a market at that location was going away for good.

My dentist is in that building, too. I wonder where he'll land...

September 06, 2005 4:55 PM  
Blogger ClarkBHM said...

Giant Eagle has a habit of buying up large retail stores which may potentially host a competitor's grocery store and then sitting on the property. It's a slightly subversive way of protecting their stranglehold on the Pittsburgh market.

September 06, 2005 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A large Whole Foods is going in down by the Trader Jacks. I would have have liked it in neighborhood, but this will do.

As far as having walkable stores, what I'd really like is some small corner markets, say on Beverly Rd, Washington Rd, etc.

September 07, 2005 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that these gigantic drug stores will eventually replace the convenience stores that are such a big part of the American landscape. The problem is that they are so much larger than a 7-11, Wawa or local Mom and Pop store, so they stick out like a sore thumb in small towns and many suburbs. It's part of the same phenomenon that is creating giant groceries, Wal-Mart, Costco etc. and driving out of business small, independent clothing shops, bookstores and the like. The economies of scale provided by big stores and big chains will save us a buck or two, but our towns' visual attractiveness will suffer and actually walking to a grocery store will become an option for fewer people.

September 07, 2005 4:48 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I shop at Costco and Giant Eagle, but I'd love to be able to pick up a few staples like bread, milk and eggs at a small grocery on Beverly. There probably isn't a store with enough space to make it worthwhile.

I'm looking forward to both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, if they really end up opening in the South Hills.

September 07, 2005 5:27 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

My own hypothesis - think about the new Sunrise care center next to South Hills Village, the Covenant building off Bower Hill, and the Baptist Homes facility on Castle Shannon Boulevard, and think about where the mega-drugstores have sprung up. Coincidence?

Personally, I wonder what it will be like in 20 years or so, forecasting a much-reduced aged population in the area. I don't really have any hard statistics, just going on speculation. We may be one of the oldest counties in the nation but something tells me that, unlike Palm Beach County, we're not a retirement destination.

Joe - The Bower Hill mega stores may kick out local business, but at least local businesses are filling up the space Eckerd vacated on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard. There's some info about it in the current Mt. Lebanon magazine.

September 08, 2005 1:21 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...

Now would be the time to talk to whoever Scott Township's business development person is (if they have one) and voice concerns re: razing the shopping mall, new development vs. existing structures and to get the true skinny on future plans.

September 08, 2005 1:32 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...

Matt, you've nailed it and yes, there are hard stats to back it up. MTL is not growing, is not projected to grow, therefor is a community getting older. (Check out the strategic plan at mtlebanon.org and wade your way through it to the demographic section.)

Allegheny Co. actually skews older than South Florida due to our shrinking / stable population vs. their booming-like-crazy population. (I'm talking percentages, not population numbers, although they're much bigger on that scale, too.) The oldsters in S. Florida all seem to be moving up the coast, toward Orlando. Our oldsters just seem to be moving down the street, if at all, to an assisted living facility.

September 08, 2005 1:39 PM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

Jo and Matt,
My colleagues at Pitt who look at long-term demographic and employment trends in Pittsburgh tell me that our "older" population peaked some time back, and we're actually on track to becoming a somewhat younger region. (I learned this in the context of a conversation about nursing graduates in Pittsburgh -- who are getting degrees in the belief that there will be a huge demand for them locally over the next many years. In fact, we may be training nurses for the rest of the country.) I don't have numbers for Mt. Lebanon or the South Hills generally. Assuming that this is true, then one thing to bear in mind is that real estate developers may be irrationally exuberant about the growth of the market (imagine that!), or each developer may be rational -- but in the aggregate, that adds up to an excess amount of capacity (Garrett Hardin anyone?). Five years from now, will all these facilities still be in business?

September 08, 2005 2:26 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...

Mike, that's interesting; I'd like to hear more about it since it sounds like your colleagues have more comprehensive info that what's reflected in census projections. Maybe you could dive deeper here or on Pittsblog?

September 09, 2005 4:50 PM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

My source for this stuff is my Pitt colleague Chris Briem, who has an excellent website at http://www.briem.com. If you go to that site, click on "Pittsburgh Economy" on the left side, then scroll down to "Population Age 65+" toward the bottom. That will give you chart, which is based on a model and data that Chris (or someone else associated with UCSUR, which is his academic affiliation) would need to explain in more detail.

As I said in my earlier comment, this chart doesn't tell us anything about how the older population is distributed across the region.

I'll try to find time to post something about this on the main blog.

September 09, 2005 10:42 PM  
Anonymous RichW said...

Occasionally there are situations where the eminent domain discussion does seem preferable... even if it smacks of overpowerful government.

Sites like the former Rite-Aid site or the Denis Theater could and should be used now for development. Instead we'll likely be watching those properties sit in decay for years, perhaps decades.

In talking to the Washington Road business association, there seems to be nothing they can do regarding the Denis. The owners of the building apparently don't even return calls.

I would imagine the other groups associated with Cochran and Beverly face the same challenges and are simply hostages to the landholders.

We'd love to get a greengrocer on Washington Rd. But it seems the only people taking risks are other health care providers - a great corner spot on Cedar was just taken over by a rehab facility. And so much of the street-level business is health care when it would be more beneficial as retail.

Development like this almost makes a good argument for considering moving back into the city for quality of life.

September 12, 2005 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Brad Fisher said...

I'm pretty sure the drug stores started showing up when Mike Rendell came into office and had plans to divest and privatize the state liquor store business. Shame that didn't work out, especially for those of us who prefer to get all our drugs in one convenient location.

September 15, 2005 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Amos the Poker Cat said...

Property taxes are awfully high to just build something marginally profitable on it just for land banking. Land banking might seem more reasonable if there was a shortage of suitable parcels, and rapid price increases. Nah, we will have porcine aviation first before that is the case here especially with the increase in forclosures this year.

September 16, 2005 8:46 AM  

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