Just how many fancy grocery stores can Montrose handle? Apparently a lot
by Marene Gustin
The Montrose—once the bastion of gay bars and head shops—is now the home of food. Food and more food.
Restaurants have been popping up like bluebonnets in springtime, and now it’s the grocery stores that are flourishing.
“Sales for grocery stores inside the loop have a proven track record,” says Lilly Golden, a commercial real estate developer and president of Evergreen Commercial Realty. “We have high incomes here, and people will spend money on perishables. Those are higher-cost items than packaged goods.”
Some areas of Houston are called “food deserts,” a term The Food Trust used in its 2010 report Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Houston. The report stressed the lack of fresh foods in predominately lower-income areas, and the connection between fast-food-only options and poor health. The report states: “On a national level, there is one supermarket for every 8,620 people, but in the Greater Houston area each supermarket serves more than 12,000 people.”
But in some areas of town, like Montrose, there seems to be a grocery glut. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a new or remodeled high-end supermarket. There’s the new Whole Foods Market Montrose on Waugh Drive featuring the first Whole Foods wine bar in Houston, along with a smokehouse offering fab barbecue, a bakery, a made-to-order taco bar, and a hot bistro bar that will change flavor profiles weekly. There’s even a new sports section in the Whole Body department.
“We are very excited about the new Whole Foods,” says dancer Domenico Luciano. “It’s right by our studio and house.” His partner, choreographer Dominic Walsh, concurs: “We really like having lunch there, with the salads by the pound.”
H-E-B is building a new store on West Alabama Street on the site of the old Wilshire Apartments complex, just a stone’s throw from their Buffalo Market and Central Market foodie spots. The new store is right across the street from a Fiesta.
And the longtime Montrose supermarket known as the Disco Kroger underwent a major remodel this summer, adding a greater selection of produce including locally grown foods, 1,300 specialty cheeses, 450 beers, and a new mezzanine lounge.
Even the Randalls at Shepherd Square on Westhiemer Road recently did some renovations, adding a patient lounge to the pharmacy.
But there are even more grocers coming to the ’hood.
Both the North Carolina-based The Fresh Market and Sprouts Farmers Market, which has 101 stores in four states, are rumored to be looking at this area. And it’s been widely reported that Trader Joe’s, which announced last spring that it was bringing its quirky food store concept to Houston, is looking at the Alabama Theater site.
In and around Montrose, grocery stores are the new Starbucks: one on every corner. And all of them seem to be making money.
In car-centric Houston, inner loopers don’t rely on Internet food orders. They just hop in the car and drive to pick up what they need. Golden says most folks will drive 2.5 miles for groceries—hence the closeness of the multiple H-E-B and Whole Foods locations. And due to the density in Montrose, there seems to be plenty of shoppers to go around.
“I really love grocery stores,” says Carlos Meltzer, who runs the cooking school at the River Oaks Sur La Table. He and his partner, Nick Espinosa, are typical of area grocery shoppers, picking and choosing from multiple stores for specific needs.
“We like organic and local produce,” he says. “We’ll go to Whole Foods and Central Market for meats and fish, maybe Fiesta because they have a really good produce department, and maybe Kroger if we need cleaning supplies and paper products. It’s really about convenience—we may go to Central Market, and then there’s several places we can stop on the way home to find whatever we need.”
But he admits they may change some shopping patterns when the new H-E-B opens.
Stuart Rosenberg of Studio Communications, not an avid shopper but a salad aficionado, may change stores as well.
“I’m excited about the new H-E-B,” he says. “I think it will be more economical than Whole Foods. I think their salads, which is what I buy most, will be less than the ones at Whole Foods.”
Interior designer Hunter Martin plans to check out the new H-E-B as well, but says he’ll probably stay loyal to his favorites. “I do the shopping and Matt [his partner of four years] does the cooking,” he says. “We eat at home about five times a week. I am obsessed with Central Market. I love, love it. But I also go to Buffalo Market and Whole Foods.”
Martin thinks there is room for a few more supermarkets in the area before we hit a tipping point. But he thinks the new H-E-B may hurt the Fiesta next door.
“Why would anyone go to Fiesta when there’s a new H-E-B across the street?”
Not everyone agrees. “I’ll definitely try the new store there,” says foodie Jennifer Olin. “But I’ll still shop at Fiesta for the international food selection they have.”
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.