When Urban Orchard Market opened to moderate fanfare last October, there was hope that maybe, finally, Downtown Dallas was grown up enough to support a grocery store.
It's not. Ten months after opening, the jaunty "Now Open" banner still hanging above the door, the market has quietly closed. A downtown resident who identified himself as Dennis arrived at the storefront off Jackson Street on Thursday morning to find the doors gated and locked. He had planned to pick up a loaf of bread.
"Now," he declared with mild regret, "I have to buy CVS bread."
Dennis wasn't particularly surprised the grocer had folded. His own impression was that the space was too big for its sparse customer base, always with half-empty shelves and produce wilted from languishing too long on the shelf.
Nor should he have been. The writing has been scrawled pretty clearly across the walls of the Interurban Building at 1500 Jackson St. from day one. Urban Orchard moved into the space occupied for several years by Urban Market, which closed despite generous city subsidies. Though the new store was tied to a liquor store and cafe and was more heavily focused on organic and vegetarian goods, the basic economics were about the same.
The owners, moreover, had little experience running a business. Its three principals, Umair Hameed, Loc Tran and John McIntosh, were 27 and fresh out of college. McIntosh, according to his LinkedIn profile finished his fitness studies degree at UNT in 2013. (McIntosh is the one who invited our Lauren Smart to the store's grand opening with the promise that "there will be so much liquor delivered here it will be crazy.") His current job title is "Renaissance Man."
Councilman Philip Kingston, whose district includes the Urban Orchard site, says he's not sure whether the store was doomed by inexperience or because the market's simply not there yet. The Central Business District has a population of about 8,500, right at the cusp of the range he's been told by commercial real estate types is necessary to support a grocery. The test, he thinks, will come with the opening of a specialty store as part of the Statler Hilton redo.
Even if that doesn't pan out, there will probably be other attempts. "Every development plan for downtown that I've seen for the past year includes a grocery."
David Livingston, a Wisconsin-based grocery-store consultant, isn't sure Dallas is quite there yet.
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"You've gotta get population," he says. "You've gotta get high-rise, dense population," which he defines as "probably about 10,000 people within half a mile of the site of the location."
That's for a scaled-down version of a supermarket, like the store HEB built in downtown San Antonio. Dallas' downtown population may be big enough to get some interest from Wal-mart for one of its smaller urban stores or to support a smaller niche market, albeit one that would have to get a very large chunk of its revenue from catering or a deli rather than groceries.
For Dennis, the guy turned back by Urban Orchard Market's locked doors, the discussion is moot. His son is 4 years old, and he's moving to Irving this weekend so he can go to a decent school.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.