Really small grocery stores on HEB's horizon; a fit for downtowns

Jan 23, 2015
Austin Business Journal

Austin's dominant grocer — HEB Grocery Company LP — will soon build its smallest store in the chain in downtown San Antonio, a harbinger of what may come to Central Austin in the future

The San Antonio-based company has spent the past decade going big-box to compete with stores such as Wal-Mart but it got the OK Wednesday night from San Antonio's Historic and Design Review Commission to proceed with plans to open a 12,000-square-foot grocery store and gas station on South Flores Street and East Cesar Chavez Boulevard

HEB doesn't have a store in downtown Austin, which is served by the flagship store of Austin-based Whole Foods Market Inc. and a few Royal Blue Grocery stores, which are also based here

The store in downtown San Antonio will be about one-sixth the size of an average HEB grocery store. A typical HEB store is 70,000 to 80,000 square feet

William Triplett, senior vice president of strategic design at HEB, said in earlier conceptual drawings HEB considered an even smaller downtown store — 6,000 square feet — but opted to go bigger

Triplett said now, HEB's biggest challenge is figuring out how to operate such a small store — especially in terms of delivery methods and stock

That is why Triplett and his team are heading north to Canada to meet with executives from Sobeys, the second-largest food retailer in Canada that operates large- and small-format grocery stores

Sobeys' larger stores are about 30,000 square feet, but the company also has tiny stores at 4,500 square feet in populous cities such as Toronto. Sobeys' smaller stores, marketed as Sobey's Urban Fresh, first opened in 2003. The small stores target working professionals who don't have time to cook but want to buy ready-made meals and fresh produce

Should the approval process go smoothly, construction on the new store is expected to begin in early summer and be completed by fall 2015

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