LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Columbia needs downtown grocery store

Thursday, March 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Downtown Columbia needs a grocery store. As an MU student who grew up in mid-Missouri, I have seen Columbia blossom into a vibrant community. Now the city is seeing a rapid increase in growth, and downtown is no exception. Over the past few years, many new apartment complexes have sprouted up, with many more currently in the works.

In correspondence to a brand new seven-story Doubletree hotel to be erected in the present location of the Regency Hotel, traffic to downtown Columbia is likely to increase. To prepare for this extra traffic, another six-story parking garage is being built directly across the street. Two separate entities are showing interest in utilizing the space, which will increase the resident population downtown.

Columbia's downtown district is the place to be for art, dining, shopping and much more. But what it excels at in culture, it lacks in basic necessities. Few, if any, stores supply the goods many use on a daily basis. The closest location, Walgreens, only sells some of these basic goods.

Consider the ease and simplicity, not just downtown but in the immediate area, residents would experience if such a store existed. For many, the nearest place to buy food and basic goods would be one of the chain stores on Conley Road, Grindstone Parkway or farther. This would decrease the need for people who live nearby to drive to purchase such items, further decreasing congested roadways. It is time for Columbia to open a grocery store downtown.

Mackenzie Thiessen is a Columbia resident.

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Jimmy Bearfield March 15, 2012 | 8:19 a.m.

"For many, the nearest place to buy food and basic goods would be one of the chain stores on Conley Road, Grindstone Parkway or farther."

Eastgate is much closer. Lots of students shop there.

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Mark Foecking March 15, 2012 | 8:46 a.m.

Downtown used to have one, and it closed around ten years ago. Even before that, Schnucks used to be where the Office Depot is now. The reason these stores closed or moved is they couldn't compete with the combination of larger stores with a better selection, and ubiquitous automobiles.

The situation hasn't changed much. Fuel is still cheap enough, and most students have cars, so a downtown store just isn't viable at this point. I'm sure if it were, someone like Moser or Prenger would step in and open one.


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Jimmy Bearfield March 15, 2012 | 9:11 a.m.

I don't remember a downtown grocery store 10 years ago. Which one was that? Schnucks moved to its current location in the early 1990s.

Agreed that if a downtown store were viable, someone would have opened it by now. They're probably waiting to see if more professionals and other desirable demographics move downtown.

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Mark Foecking March 15, 2012 | 9:34 a.m.

It was called University Grocery, and it was near the old Bambino's on Hitt. I think it was in the building that became Athena's and those places. Very small, but they did have more selection than Walgreen's. I think most of what they sold was liquor.


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Jimmy Bearfield March 15, 2012 | 11:14 a.m.

Gotcha. I forgot about University Grocery. Never went in there because I thought it was more like a convenience store/Lee Street Deli in terms of selection.

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Kitsune Roberts March 15, 2012 | 3:16 p.m.

One of the biggest reasons is parking. There aren't any places down there that a grocery store would be able to provide its customers any free parking. All of the areas that could be turned into free parking for a grocer are currently occupied by the University (where you need a pass to park in during the day) or are being bought up to construct apartment complexes.

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Jimmy Bearfield March 16, 2012 | 11:25 a.m.

When you choose to live downtown, you shouldn't expect parking to be cheap and ample, let alone free. You're paying a premium to live within walking distance of restaurants, shops, etc. That's the reality in any city, large or small. A downtown grocer could respond by offering "free" or inexpensive delivery in the urban core, but of course that cost would be passed on to customers in the form of higher prices. Whether it's parking or delivery, you'll pay either way.

Living downtown is about paying for convenience. The only issue is how many people are willing to do so and whether that's enough potential customers to convince a grocer to open downtown.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 17, 2012 | 8:01 p.m.

Here is some history on downtown Columbia stores. The most significant entry was the rustic and tradition rich Zero House on 10th Street across from the First Christian Church. It was in operation from the early 1920's until 1978 when it was forced to close its doors when the big box stores were allowed to open on Sunday.

The Zero House began as the Allen Ice Company, circa 1922 and, like Topsy, grew to be a unique (the help as well as the clientele was made up of a few real characters)and prosperous (also a bit weird) business. The clientele was so diverse and happy that the neither the NAACP nor the ACLU came calling.

The store was a busy place on Sunday, as it was the only grocery store open for business and its meat counter in particular carried a variety of meat, poultry and fish to cater to the high, middle and low income shoppers who all came to the Zero House. Some of Columbia's older residents will have fond memories of the ZERO House--one of its attributes was that it had "the coldest watermelon in Columbia"-watermelon, cantalopes and other fruits were kept in the ice house which sold ice in 12 1/half to 100 pound blocks.

My familiarity with this grocery store is very simple--it was created by my gradnfather, E D Allen and remained in the family until closing. Virtually all of the Allen siblings worked stints in the store as did almost all of the offspring who enroled in the University. Count me as one of those employees between 1953 and 1957 and, along with my brothers in the 1940's, as annual visitors to our "shining city on the Hill" where we spent countless hours (with grandad's permission) reading at the educational and generously stocked comic book rack.

My grandfather also opened the old Third Street Market across from Douglas School on what is now Providence Road. My mother and father operated that emporium during their last two years at the university. Both stores provided a valuable service.

Sadly, one of the reasons that Schnucks moved from downtown to its present location was the occurrence of and the inability to control shoplifting. The identical circumstance along with a rash of shootings was a factor in the closure of Nowell's Worley Street location. The growth of supermarkets was the major contributor to the demise of downtown groceries; however, when shoplifting and threats of physical danger cut into an an already low profit margin, there is little incentive to stay open.

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