Fruita clamors for big grocery store
City Market stands by service, selection despite tight aisles, parking
When it opened in 1979, Fruita’s City Market was gigantic, considering the standards of the day.
As Fruita’s population has increased to about 13,000 residents, the roughly 27,000-square-foot store at the west entrance to Fruita’s downtown consistently is the No. 1 complaint about living in the small city, according to city officials and community surveys.
“I still try to go to Albertsons in Grand Junction,” said Fruita resident Nathan Quinn, who was sitting in his vehicle after shopping at the store on Monday afternoon. “It seems like the town is too small for a bigger store, but I’ve been to other small towns with more (grocery) stores. They’ve got us in a pinch. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
City Market’s renewed efforts to build a store at 12th Street and Patterson Road in Grand Junction following the opening of a gleaming, 58,000-square-foot supermarket on 24 Road less than four years ago has Fruita residents wondering out loud when it will be their turn for a larger grocery store.
The Fruita City Market has been remodeled twice in recent years — once in 2005 and again in 2008 — in an attempt to create more retail space by reducing the back-of-the-house space. The deli, pharmacy and produce areas also were updated.
Prices are the same at City Markets across the Grand Valley, though some Fruita residents claim differently. It’s true that aisles are smaller in Fruita but products mostly are the same, though there may be fewer of them stocked on shelves than in the larger stores.
City Market spokeswoman Kelli McGannon said a larger City Market store in Fruita is not currently in the company’s plans, but that could change. Building new stores is a state-level decision, she said.
Fruita City Market manager Donnie Wynkoop said most people don’t realize the store has the same selection of items — for example, some of the fancy cheeses available at the 24 Road City Market store.
“We do have a bigger selection than most people realize,” he said.
Wynkoop, who has been Fruita’s store manager since 1984, said he’s aware of all the talk surrounding the Fruita store and the company is listening.
“We are doing our utmost,” he said. “We may be smaller in size but we do have the biggest smiles.”
While consumers often believe asking for a bigger store or more competition among grocers will help the situation, it comes down to a numbers game.
Stores generally demand a certain number of rooftops in a set radius to prompt an investment, especially an endeavor such as a grocery store, which produces thin profit margins.
That was precisely the conclusions of the Fruita 2008 Community Plan prepared by the Denver-based Kornfeld Group.
At the time, Fruita had 9,000 residents and an additional 5,000 residents in the unincorporated areas to the west of Fruita.
Opinions from the study concluded that Fruita still had a relatively small population base and shouldn’t expect more retail to locate there because Grand Junction attracts customers from throughout the region.
Another factor in the opinion was that about 80 percent of Fruita’s residents commute to work in Grand Junction.
“Retail demand for the area will be met first in Grand Junction, as the existing retail base creates a strong regional draw that Fruita cannot realistically compete against,” the study reported.
The study further predicted the 24 Road area near Mesa Mall would continue to attract retailers.
Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said the city and City Market have long worked together on possible expansion plans, but the store finds itself in a Catch-22. It is centrally located, just north of the Fruita exit off Interstate 70 and west of downtown. But it is also landlocked and without room for expanding, save for taking over nearby Plum Street. Bumping out the back of the store would be difficult because all of the store’s refrigeration units are located there, Kinney said. With a bigger store, the grocer would need to provide more parking. The lot already fills up during busy rushes.
“It is the No. 1 — it’s the top complaint that I consistently hear — a lack of more grocery stores in Fruita,” Kinney said.
“For what they’ve got, they do a great job,” he said of City Market. “There is a need for a larger grocery store.”
Kinney said there currently are eight, 20-acre commercial lots available north of I-70 and more space available for development in the Kokopelli Plaza south of I-70. Kinney said landowners and real estate agents have personally attempted to pitch their plots to large-scale retailers, like Walmart, but thus far haven’t had success.
An overwhelming number of Fruita community survey respondents cited a larger grocery store as the No. 1 item residents shop for in Grand Junction that they would like to have available in Fruita. A number of residents specifically requested a Walmart, while others preferred natural grocery chains.
The parking lot of Fruita’s sole grocery store was half-filled on Monday afternoon. A number of employees busily stocked shelves and customers greeted one another as they came and went. There are six traditional checkout lanes and six self-checkout lanes.
One Fruita couple, who didn’t want to be identified, were filling their trunk with groceries. They said while they like the employees at City Market, they would like another store in Fruita, probably a Safeway. They said they weren’t fond of shopping at Safeway but thought the competition would be healthy.
“It would be welcome for Fruita residents,” the woman said of another grocery store.