Save-A-Lot once again considering store for Hill
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
By Mark Belko,
A St. Louis-based grocer might be ready to give the Hill District a second chance.
Five years after passing on a chance to locate in the Hill, Save-A-Lot, a national chain with more than 1,200 stores in 39 states, has a renewed interest in the location.
Landmarks Community Capital Corp., a subsidiary of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, plans to introduce the operator at a breakfast meeting today at the Grand Concourse restaurant in Station Square.
Howard Slaughter Jr., Landmarks Community chief executive officer, said the group has been working for months to attract a grocery to the Hill.
The effort, he said, is independent of the negotiations between Hill leaders and the city, Allegheny County and the Penguins over a community benefits agreement as part of the plan to replace Mellon Arena. One of the major demands in those talks is support for a Hill grocery.
While not naming Save-A-Lot, Mr. Slaughter said the grocer involved already has visited the Hill and completed a preliminary assessment of its viability to support a store.
“I would say they have a serious interest in locating in the Hill,” he said. “They’re very interested in that location. Their interest is in serving Centre Avenue, that main corridor from the Hill to Downtown.”
Save-A-lot, a wholly owned subsidiary of Supervalu Inc., a Fortune 100 company and one of the largest grocery-related companies in the United States, considered the Hill for a store in 2003.
But the company ended up deciding against it, with a spokesman saying at the time that it was unable to find a suitable location. He did not, however, rule out a possible return to the Hill at some point.
Mr. Slaughter said a lot has changed in the five years since Save-A-Lot last considered the location. He said there has been much redevelopment in that time, including the new Oak Hill development and more senior housing.
“When you see the new development occurring in the Hill District … it’s a world of difference and it makes the marketability much more plausible,” he said.
Known for its no-frills approach, Save-A-Lot currently has stores in Crafton, Lawrenceville, Wilkinsburg, Duquesne and North Versailles. Its parent, Supervalu, not only supplies Save-A-Lots in the Pittsburgh area, but Shop ‘n Save and Foodland stores as well.
Save-A-Lot boasts of annual systemwide retail sales in excess of $4 billion and claims to offer savings of up to 40 percent compared with conventional grocery stores.
According to a news release from Landmarks Community Capital, the Hill store would offer fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy items, bakery goods, and other assorted grocery and household items. Mr. Slaughter said it is open to the possibility of minority ownership. It also said the operator hires from within the community.
“We believe this grocer provides an opportunity for residents to have quality food,” Mr. Slaughter said. “This is the best operator who we have found who is interested in coming to the Hill District.”
Save-A-Lot officials could not be reached for comment.
Carl Redwood, chairman of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, said it didn’t matter how a grocery operator was secured. What was important, he said, is that the operator “consult with and work with the community.”
“It’s good that operators are interested. It’s important that the operator share with the community as part of the process and let the community know what their intentions are prior to it happening,” he said.
The city Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Penguins each have pledged $1 million to help bring a grocery store to the Hill, and the team has been working to attract an operator to the area. Mr. Slaughter said there also may be state-financed low-interest loans available to the grocer.
The preferred site for a store is a vacant tract of land near an existing strip mall on Centre Avenue, just above Crawford Square.
Penguins President David Morehouse welcomed the interest by Save-A-Lot. He said the team has been approached by a “couple of other operators” about locating in the Hill.
“We look forward to talking to [Save-A-Lot] as well as other operators who have expressed an interest in opening a grocery store on the Hill,” he said.
City, county, Penguins and Hill representatives have been invited to today’s breakfast.
Mark Belko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
First published on January 29, 2008 at 12:00 am