Defining Convenience

01.09.14 Thumbnail Convenience StoresBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

The proliferation of grocery stores in the inner city reinforces what this Portland shopper already knows: every urban dweller should have a food store within walking distance of their house.

Share this article!

01.09.14 Convenience StoresBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

New Seasons Market is rapidly expanding in Portland. Just a few months ago, the local grocery chain opened a new store on North Williams. Another market is going up at NE Broadway and 32nd. This past Monday, New Seasons Market confirmed a future location in the Woodstock neighborhood.

All this bodes well for residents of inner-city Portland who want convenient access to groceries. In fact, NPR reported “convenience” as the “key” to how young people decide where to shop for groceries in a 2012 article titled, “Wake Up Call to Grocery Stores: Young People Shop Around.”

But what makes a store the “convenient” choice?

In our October cover story, “The C-Store Paradox,” which documented the development and popularity of convenience stores in Portland, three store owners shared their thoughts on what makes a convenience store, well, convenient.

To Lisa Sedlar, CEO of Green Zebra Grocery (and former CEO of New Seasons Market), “Convenience means not sending you to more than one store.”

Matt Carlough, board member of the Oregon Neighborhood Store Association and owner of Bridge Street Mini Mart in Vernonia, finds a store convenient based on a shopper’s ability to get in-and-out. “At a Safeway, you’ve got to park 50 feet away and hike all the way to the back of the store to get a six-pack,” Carlough said. “That’s not convenient.”

For the CEO of Plaid Pantry, Chris Girard defines a convenience store with this simple idea: “It’s a box.”

But in an area where there is an abundance of grocery stores within a one-mile radius (The New Seasons currently being constructed will be one block away from Fred Meyer, two blocks from a QFC and about six blocks from Trader Joe’s), what deciding factor determines where shoppers will go?

To me, convenience has little to do with buying in one place or speed-shopping in a 2,400-square-foot box and everything to do with proximity. Sure, I want to purchase the freshest produce at the lowest cost, but cost is about more than price tags. It’s about the time and money spent getting to-and-from the store.

Unless I need to purchase something specific, a 10-minute-walk to Fred Meyer will always beat the additional five dollars I’ll pay for a 20-minute bus ride to New Seasons Market in Concordia, or the extra $4.26 I’ll spend in gas, as well as 20 minutes in (good) traffic on a trip to Green Zebra Grocery.

But I really shouldn’t complain. While I decide which grocery store will best serve my needs, East Portland languishes. Most denizens living in the neighborhoods east of I-205 lack the option to walk or bike to grocery stores and have no choice but to pay transportation costs. Residents who live near a grocery store — for example, people residing in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood — are limited to just one or two options in their area. (Although this past spring a New Seasons spokesperson told OB that a store may open on the outer eastside.)

Perhaps to most, convenience does refer to a streamlined shopping experience. But access to neighborhood amenities is at least as important as getting in and out of a store quickly. Such is the premise of the “20-Minute Neighborhoods,” a concept pioneered several years ago under Mayor Sam Adams but has yet to be implemented in an equitable fashion.

As a result, inner-city residents are swarmed (at times, overwhelmed) by choices while those who dwell in East Portland are still lost in a food desert.

So what makes a grocery store the “convenient choice?” The answer is simple: the most convenient store is the one that is easiest to get to — and that often means the one closest to your home. 

Latest from Oregon Business Team