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PITTSBURGH - Limited-assortment discount grocer Save-A-Lot Ltd. is investigating the possibility of opening some stores in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Business Times reports.
According to Dan Kimack, manager of corporate communications for St. Louis-based Save-A-Lot, "We have looked very seriously at a handful of sites. We do see a real potential going forward."
Save-A-Lot has looked at Pittsburgh before, but for the first time the company is thinking about multiple locations, perhaps signaling a greater commitment to the area.
Robert Rubinstein, manager of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) business development center, said four or five supermarkets are needed in the city, with the greatest need in Larimer and Homewood in the East End, the Hill District and Uptown, parts of the North Side, and South Side hilltop communities Allentown and Knoxville, among others. Although the current trend is for grocery stores to open larger stores farther away from urban centers, he said, "I think that there is an opportunity for smaller, leaner retailers to come in and be more convenient in serving the neighborhoods."
A team of top Save-A-Lot executives visited Pittsburgh neighborhoods for possible sites earlier this year, and last week the company met with the URA to further study the market within Pittsburgh's city limits.
Kimack would not talk about specific locations but did mention the Hill District -- a neighborhood presented to a large number of grocers -- as a community in which Save-A-Lot is interested.
At the present time Save-A-Lot runs as many as 15 stores in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area -- none of them within the city limits.
There has been a dearth of grocery stores in city neighborhoods since the region's biggest grocer, Giant Eagle, started closing its older, smaller stores in Pittsburgh and building larger stores in the suburbs.
Save-A-Lot's idea for the proposed city stores is to take a bare-bones approach -- locations of 14,000 to 16,000 square feet offering only 1,250 of the most popular grocery items, Kimack explained. Those items would include fresh produce, USDA-inspected meats and poultry, and dairy products, he said.
By offering a small selection of the most popular items, Save-A-Lot can reduce its prices by 40 percent compared with regular grocery chains, he added. The chain, consisting of 1,200-plus stores across the country, gets its buying power from its corporate parent, Supervalu, the country's largest food distributor. According to Kimack, Save-A-Lot stores now serve more than 4 million shoppers every day.
If Save-A-Lot actually comes to Pittsburgh, the company will face skepticism from neighborhood residents who equate limited-assortment stores with a second-class offering, and competition from outlying grocers resentful of the city subsidies Save-A-Lot can expect to receive. Still unknown is whether the company will commit with corporate stores or with local licensed operators currently established in the area.