ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ron Hassan was used to begging others for rides every time he needed to restock his refrigerator or cupboard.
Hassan, who is on disability and does not drive, can now just walk across the street from his Downtown apartment complex and pop into the new Silver Street Market. It’s such an exciting development that Hassan showed up at the store this morning, its first day in business.
“It’s great,” he said, after picking up some turkey at the deli counter. “I’ve been waiting for it to open since they broke ground.”
Anticipation for Downtown’s new full-service grocery store was so high, co-owner Rob Ortman said, that a few customers were waiting outside when he unlocked the doors for the first time at 6 a.m.
“Everyone is excited, and I’m excited,” Ortman said as a steady stream of shoppers roamed the aisles around 8:30 a.m.
Today’s opening marked something of a watershed moment for the neighborhood, which had long clamored for a place to buy eggs, cereal and apples.
The store carries thousands of items, including organic and natural foods, and national and generic brands. Silver Street also has a butcher, deli and small bakery, as well as some prepared foods and liquor.
“It’s filling this gaping hole,” said Lola Bird, a Downtown dweller and executive director of the Downtown ABQ MainStreet nonprofit. “(When) we don’t have that basic service, how do you even call yourself a Downtown? … Now we can say, ‘Yeah, head on over four blocks to the grocery store. You can get what you need.’ ”
Bird estimates that Downtown “stakeholders” have had a grocery store on their wish list for the past 25 years, noting that it’s tough to sell people on Downtown living without that component.
The city formally began its quest for a Downtown grocery store in 2012 by offering a piece of property at Second and Silver to a developer willing to take on the project. Mayor Richard Berry said he considers the grocery store a key element in Downtown’s revitalization and expects it to drive additional residential and commercial development.
“I don’t think we’re going to get where we’re going to get without a grocery store,” he said.
Making that happen involved a complex public-private partnership that includes two developers, Geltmore and YES Housing, various public incentives and a project much larger than just a grocery store.
Silver Street Market is just one tenant in a four-story, mixed-use building. The Imperial also has 74 apartments, underground parking and about 12,000 additional square feet of commercial space. The businesses already lined up to move in include restaurants Crackin’ Crab and Maya, an Abbey Brewing Co. taproom called The Monks’ Corner and Salon Jerome.
The apartments are 100 percent leased, according to a news release.
“This is a great project in a lot of other regards,” Berry said. “But that grocery store component is huge for the future of Downtown, and people who live and work there.”
Geltmore, which oversaw the Imperial’s commercial aspects, found local grocery operators in Rob and Kelly Ortman, who come from careers with the John Brooks Supermarket chain. They say their goal was to create a shopping experience to suit Downtown’s eclectic and economically diverse population.
Rob Ortman estimates that the store carries 18,000-20,000 different products. On the ice cream aisle alone, shoppers will find a mix that ranges from a $1.75 pint of value-brand butter pecan to a 1.5-quart portion of organic mint chip for $8.39.
“How can you squeeze this much into this square footage?” he said. “But we’ve done it. I think we’ve been able to surprise people with what we’ve come up with.”
Kelly Ortman said they will continue tweaking as necessary.
“We’re trying to carry what the neighborhood wants, so we will adjust and take requests from our customers,” she said.
Many of the store’s first-day shoppers arrived on foot. Joyce and Adren Etheridge happily hoofed it from their place about seven blocks away.
“It’s going to be so nice to have something I can walk to,” said Joyce, a retired CPA, adding that she might invest in a personal pull cart to tote the groceries home.
Steve Syers was also among the store’s first customers, walking over from his nearby apartment with his service dog, Soldja.
“I love it so far,” he said in front of the frozen food selection.
Syers said a work injury keeps him from driving, so he would often take the city bus down Central to a store at Coors.
“I noticed a few prices are a little higher,” he said at Silver Street, but added that the convenience factor more than makes up for it. “I’d rather come here.”
An estimated 15,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the market, according to Geltmore’s David Silverman. He said it’s too soon to know exactly how the grocery store might change that, but he still considers it a milestone for larger Downtown revitalization efforts.
It also represents collaboration among various entities that worked together to fill a need. The city’s contributions amounted to an estimated $4.4 million, including the land, according to a spokeswoman. Bernalillo County approved industrial revenue bonds, while the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority awarded the project low-income housing tax credits.
“We still have a long way to go, but I think the whole community should be proud of the project,” Silverman said. “It’s amazing. This is just one benchmark … (a) tangible (sign) that we are making progress.”