Old Louisville is a lot of amazing things. It’s America’s largest collection of Victorian homes. It’s the city’s densest neighborhood. The American Planning Association named it one of the nation’s 2016’s five “Great Neighborhoods.” Real estate site Redfin also named it one of the country’s top ten most bikeable urban areas.
But you can’t walk to the store to buy your groceries.
That’s a problem being tackled by a group of investors seeking to bring a new supermarket to the neighborhood. This month, the group of local and out-of-town interests purchased the vacant Winn Dixie site at 1148 South Fourth Street just north of Oak Street. The site was listed for sale last November for $1.75 million. The 2.35-acre parcel includes the former 43,000-square-foot Winn Dixie, its parking lot, and access roads.
Local attorney and developer Joe Impellizzeri is working as developer for the ownership group. The Old Louisville resident has rehabbed several nearby buildings including the former Women’s Club on Fourth. Impellizzeri said the plan is to reuse the circa-1984 grocery to lure a new supermarket to the site. And he couldn’t express enough how significant—and challenging—such a move would be for the neighborhood.
“We’ve reached out to a lot of groceries. Groceries in town and not in town,” Impellizzeri said. “In fact, every grocery that’s in this city has been contacted. And even some that aren’t in the Louisville market.”
But so far the response has been cold.
“One of the issues this project faces is how grocery stores select their sites,” he continued. Impellizzeri said today’s world of large-scale supermarkets began forming in the 1940s with consolidations of smaller grocery chains. One of the giants of the time was the A&P, which operated a store on this site for decades. Modern chains have grown so large, he noted, that they rely on national and regional real-estate brokers to guide them in their location decisions. And low-risk, suburban sites with higher broker commissions usually win the day.
For instance, Impellizzeri pointed to Shelbyville Road in St. Matthews, replete with all sorts of grocery options. When a broker looks at that established corridor versus Old Louisville, they see low risk and high reward.
“I think that’s the reason why we haven’t seen a grocery store race to [this] site,” Impellizzeri said. He noted retail rents in Old Louisville are less than half that of St. Matthews, driving down a broker’s commission. “What broker wants to risk a national contract with a client by locating in an area that might not succeed and in the process make less money?”
But Impellizzeri is confident that there’s no risk for a grocer to set up shop on Fourth Street. “It’s not a question of market demand. We have a demand for a grocery store. Our neighborhood can support a grocery store,” he said. “We’ve got $52 million in sales in a 1.6-mile radius. What risk is there?” Among his goals is showing national brokers and grocers that, by the numbers, Old Louisville is a safe bet.
“There is not a better site for a grocery store to serve our city than at Fourth and Oak,” he continued. A map showing supermarket locations in the city depicts a clear doughnut around the urban parts of Louisville. That in spite of Old Louisville’s density and some of Louisville’s busiest bus lines passing along the parcel’s doorstep.
But besides being an excellent site for a grocery, it’s also one of Old Louisville’s only sites for this scale of retail, Impellizzeri noted. “We don’t have large-box sites in our neighborhood,” he said. “We have this one.”
And for years, Impellizzeri said out-of-town owners kept the property idle. After Winn Dixie closed its store and withdrew from the Louisville market, the company continued to pay rent on the space. In turn, the owners kept up the building’s structure, but had no incentive to seek a new tenant. “You have this ghost store that’s a vacant property,” he said. “Our one large site was being held hostage by the prior owner.”
Impellizzeri sees a new operator at the site as a way to battle another challenge in the neighborhood: perception. “People believe what they want to believe,” he said. For years, the narrative has gone that Fourth and Oak is a center for crime and that there’s no demand for a supermarket. Impellizzeri says that kind of talk sinks in if you say it enough. “Sometimes you have to stop and look for the facts.”
“That’s the reason this for lease sign has the radius sales on it,” Impellizzeri continued. A large sign was installed this week on Oak showing the buying potential of the area. It points to a website called the Landmark District. “I want everyone in Louisville to know their power.”
“The way we’re going to succeed in developing this property is to harness the power of the collective,” he said. “It’s not just a couple grocery tenants. It’s got to be everyone in the neighborhood and everyone in the city who would benefit from a grocery at this location.” And with the recent closing of the Second Street Kroger and FirstLink groceries to the north, there are plenty of beneficiaries.
“Think about how much it will benefit our neighborhood if we have a grocery,” Impellizzeri said. “Old Louisville has everything you need to be a walkable neighborhood. If we had a grocery store, we could have a useful walk from our homes and apartments. Putting a grocery at Fourth and Oak can make Old Louisville the neighborhood it has the potential to be.”
And that’s the next step—to get the neighborhood fired up about bringing a supermarket to Fourth and Oak. “Old Louisville is rich with people who care about the neighborhood and love it,” Impellizzeri said. “We’re very interested in meeting with all of them.” He added that his group wouldn’t be stopping at the neighborhood line, but asking for support from nearby neighborhoods as well.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Impellizzeri concluded. “I remain confident that a grocer who has the info about the sales available at this site will come.”