On October 5th the Forty Acres Fresh Market store development team answered one of the biggest questions hovering over the the brick and mortar store. "How will the store be supplied with the groceries it sells?"
Grocery stores operate from the back room out to the sales floor. How the store is supplied is a key driver in how the store is designed.
I first envisioned a store under 5000 square feet that could be supplied by a network of specialty suppliers and a small wholesaler. However, due to the size of the building we wound up designing a store almost double that size. A bigger store is projected to have just enough volume to qualify for a major wholesaler's minimum purchase requirements.
With this in mind, we designed a loading area that could accommodate a semi truck. Because we purchased a former Salvation Army store, we needed to retrofit the existing building to create the necessary receiving infrastructure. Our initial solution was to surgically demolish a portion at the rear of the building to create a loading lane which a truck would access from Waller Avenue, a residential street.
Here was the rub. The maximum size truck that Waller can accommodate is 40 feet. Forty Acres Fresh Market wants to source from a major wholesaler who only delivers in 60 feet trucks.
Since we could not move the location of the loading area to another part of the building, we determined our solution was to get the Chicago Department of Transportation to agree to widen the existing street to accommodate the largest size semi truck.
The city's response to this plan was less than enthusiastic.
For months our development team met with the city, finding answers for every objection they raised. Why wouldn't we take no for an answer and just go with a supplier who used smaller trucks?
Affordability has always been the cornerstone of Forty Acres Fresh Market. Sourcing products from a network of dozens of produce, meat, dry grocery and specialty food vendors or through a smaller wholesaler would result in a higher cost of goods. A higher cost of goods means higher prices for customers.
The best option for Forty Acres Fresh Market to have competitive pricing to larger grocery retailers is to source from one of the same major wholesalers that supplies them.
In addition to supplying goods at a lower cost, these wholesalers also offer a wide range of store operations support. This support includes merchandising plans, inventory management, employee training, and more. These services are critical to setting up a new retailer for success.
I was not going to let something as trivial (but really very significant) as truck size keep Forty Acres Fresh Market from having the supplier I know it needs. While widening streets is a costly and complex infrastructure project, I believed it was doable and necessary to give the store the best chance for success. The CDOT team was adamant that widening the street would not make accommodating a 60 foot truck feasible.
We had reached an impasse when a member of the CDOT team said, "Let's test it." She proposed bringing out a 60 foot truck and measuring the turning radius needed to get a semi truck on to the property from Waller Avenue.
Our friends at the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) loaned us one of their trucks, a driver (Rudy), and their transportation manager (Malo). Together with CDOT, Alderman Chris Taliaferro, Westside Health Authority, and Latent Design, we all met at the store site at 5713 W Chicago Avenue to prove me right.
Immediately the GCFD team said there was no way on God's green earth that a 60ft truck would ever fit on Waller Avenue, even if we widened the street.
But all was not lost. Malo, pointed to the existing Chicago Avenue facing driveway and asked, "Why can't you make this wider and bring the truck in from here?"
We explained that the driveway was too close to the building and we could not expand it east due to the presence of the bus stop at the corner.
That's when CDOT chimed in with, "Oh this bus stop here? We're going to be moving that one block east so it won't be here anymore."
And with that information a new plan was born. Instead of vehicles entering the property from Waller, we could now center and widen the Chicago Avenue driveway and have all vehicles (both customer and suppliers) use it. The only question left to answer was could a truck that size turn into the property from Chicago Avenue. GCFD driver extraordinaire, Rudy gave us the answer.
And the crowd goes wild! CDOT loved it. They were fine with the truck needing to use the entire street to make the turn if it meant they would not have to make major infrastructure changes. The development team recognized the cost savings of not having to relocate the driveway to Waller Avenue. Me? I was still unsure. While watching Rudy maneuver a semi truck on to the property was thrilling, I didn't see a way for the truck to pull into the planned loading area that we were going to carve into the existing structure.
Then Malo proved that he's ideas man with this suggestion. "Instead of cutting away the building to make the loading dock, why don't you create a perpendicular addition to the building that the truck can back into?"
Although having a semi truck occupying the majority of the customer parking lot at any given time is never ideal, I knew having the capacity to accept orders from a major wholesaler was worth the logistical challenge. The wholesaler that we've been courting agreed and determined that they could make deliveries entering the property from Chicago Avenue. They even offered to give us an early morning delivery window before the store opens, so as not to impede customer parking.
With the city, the wholesaler, and the development team all on the same page our architecture and store planning teams got to work on the fifty-leventh redesign of this project.
This new design was submitted to the City of Chicago Building Department for permit review this week. If the odds are ever in our favor we should have a construction permit within the first two months of 2023. Truck yeah!!