A new grocery store is planned for Richmond’s Church Hill North neighborhood, an area in the East End that for years has been described as a “food desert” because of the lack of a full-service supermarket.
Jim Scanlon, president of Jim’s Local Market, would operate the store in a planned development at the northern corner of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street.
Steven A. Markel, vice chairman of Henrico County-based specialty insurer Markel Corp., is personally financing the project to redevelop two city blocks at North 24th and North 25th streets and Nine Mile Road.
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which receives federal funds to operate low-income housing units, is selling the property to the developer at below-market rates.
A rezoning application to develop a mixed-use residential and neighborhood retail development was filed with the city late Monday for the 3.24-acre site.
“We believe we have a business model that’s right for urban areas like the East End of Richmond — combining quality products, affordability for all customers, and a level of employee engagement that creates a culture of great customer service,” said Scanlon, who opened a Jim’s Local market last week in Newport News with the same intention.
Markel said the area where the Richmond store would be built is in a “blighted part of the city that is crying to be re-developed.” And while he personally is financing the project, he said Markel Corp. is not involved.
“I’m putting my shoulder behind it,” he said of the initiative. “It has been on the drawing board for a number of years.”
The goal is to bring in additional retail, which has not been identified, as well as apartments.
“We will be asking the neighborhood what they want,” Markel said. “We will be looking at what other businesses could be successful and could create jobs for people that live in that area.
“The number one problem in that area is creating jobs for people. That is one of the values of a grocery store — it can employ local people.”
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is in the process of re-acquiring parcels that the housing agency had sold to Bon Secours Health System, which had planned to put a medical office building on part of the site, said T.K. Somanath, president and CEO of the authority.
“We have a contract to buy back the property, and the property is going to be sold to the partnership that Steve Markel is involved in,” Somanath said.
“There is some cost to it, but we are incentivizing in a way that the architecture and the quality and all those requirements to really anchor the center at 25th and Nine Mile Road will be achieved with our assistance.”
According to the rezoning application, the store will be about 30,000 square feet. Scanlon said in an interview that the Newport News location at 3101 Jefferson Ave. is about 29,000 square feet.
Markel visited that store Friday and said it was beautiful.
“It looks like the nicest grocery store you’ve been in in Richmond,” he said. “(It carries) just about everything. It does appeal to all walks of life. ... It was bustling Friday afternoon when my wife and I were in there.”
Somanath, Mayor Dwight C. Jones and 7th District Councilwoman Cynthia I. Newbille jointly announced the grocery project in a news release Tuesday.
“The East End food desert has needed healthy groceries and good jobs for a long time, and I hope that success here can be replicated in other neighborhoods across the city,” Jones said in a statement.
The need for a full-service grocery store was mentioned again and again by residents who participated in a weeklong community planning session conducted by Bon Secours Richmond Health System in the East End in 2010.
Bon Secours operates Richmond Community Hospital, at 1500 N. 28th St., Richmond, near the site proposed for the grocery store.
“I would love to shop in the neighborhood,” said Jennifer Parham, president of the Church Hill Central Civic Association, which represents an area that abuts the proposed development.
Because there isn’t a place to get all that she needs nearby, Parham said she usually shops at a Kroger store she passes on her route from work to home. For a grocery store to survive, she said, it has to appeal to a mix of residents.
“Many of us have vocalized for several years now that we would love to have something like that, provided it is low-cost and full-service,” Parham said.
“It’s not going to help the people who live in the housing projects if it’s not reasonably low-priced. It’s not going to survive if it does not have the wines and cheeses so that the rest of the neighborhood would come and support it.”
Opening a grocery store in Richmond’s East End has been a dream of Scanlon, who left in August 2014 as the regional vice president of Martin’s Food Markets stores in the Richmond area to pursue his idea of opening small stores in urban areas that have limited access to grocery stores.
Scanlon has worked in the grocery business since the late 1970s. He worked for the Hannaford Bros. Co. chain in New England and here. He became a vice president at the former Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc. stores and then oversaw the local operations for the Martin’s chain.
He had hoped his first Jim’s Local Market would be in his adopted hometown of Richmond within a year of leaving Martin’s.
Instead, he couldn’t get enough support then for his plans locally. He did get support from Newport News city officials to build a store there — which is why that store opened first.
Now he has the support in Richmond, he said.
The zoning application filed with the city on Monday is the beginning of a monthslong approval process and is the first of several steps that must occur before construction can begin. Design and layout of the grocery site and for accompanying mixed-use development still is in the works.
Markel did not have an estimate of the cost of the development but said he is not in it to make money.
“I don’t expect to make any money out of this. I hope to lose as little as possible,” he said.
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