Downtown’s City Market Closer to Reality

By Andy Meek

Pedestrians pass the empty windows on the ground floor of Radio Center Flats, the apartment development at 66 S. Main St., where City Market Groceries & Deli, an upscale grocery and deli, is planned.  Plans are still in the works, but the grocery would tentatively have a 10-year lease for about 2,880 square feet plus an outdoor patio, according to the Center City Commission. Photo: Lance Murphey

The store’s motto is “e-squared – eat and enjoy.”

Its look and feel will be that of an Old World market offering customers freshly prepared food with a local and international flair, as well as grocery staples such as milk and eggs.

And thanks to a $40,000 retail forgivable loan awarded by the Center City Development Corp. Wednesday, the way is now paved for City Market Groceries & Deli to open Downtown around May.

The grocery is planned for the ground floor of Radio Center Flats, the apartment development at 66 S. Main St., where it will be in a position to capture strong business from Downtown residents and workers. It’s also not far from major landmarks like The Peabody hotel, so the owners have positioned it to be a hit among tourists and Downtown visitors, too.

“It’s a much-needed store, and there’s great potential,” said Hamida Pirani Mandani, who will be a managing partner of the store along with her husband, Sunny.

Neighborhood niche

They’ve drawn up extensive and detailed plans for what looks to be a small, boutique venture that provides the convenience of a major grocery. An outdoor patio and limited menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring items prepared each morning will offer a reasonably priced restaurant experience.

And the look of the store – which will feature exposed bricks, tall ceiling beams and concrete floors – will contribute to a cozy, neighborhood feel.

Like Miss Cordelia’s, another similarly sized grocery Downtown, the partners behind City Market likely will rely to some degree on social media like Facebook as a low-cost promotional tool. Harbor Town’s Miss Cordelia’s – named after its developer, Henry Turley’s, late mother – has been touting soups and other specials of the day to the grocery’s Facebook friends as a magnet to draw customers into the store.

And the very existence of that Mud Island competitor is one reason City Market may have found a sweet spot.

“They’ll offer different products that Downtown folks may have to otherwise drive to Whole Foods or Miss Cordelia’s for,” said Lisa Brumleve, the Center City Commission’s manager of business recruitment and retention.

The plan for City Market is to sign a 10-year lease for 2,880 square feet of space at Radio Center Flats. Plans for the store design will go to the CCC’s Design Review Board in April.

The City Market partners also are planning to apply for a $30,000 façade grant from the CCC to make improvements to the space.

Convenience approved

Thanks to a plan the CCC’s business consultant reviewed and found to be appropriately conservative, the partners anticipate turning a profit starting in year one and never dipping into the red after that. One way they’ll hold the line on expenses is by having the managing partners put in plenty of elbow grease to cut down on labor costs.

City Market will serve coffee, tea, juice and soda throughout the day. A rotating menu will feature sandwiches, soups, salads, drinks and desserts.

Prices for the deli and prepared food items will range from $7 to $9 for sandwiches, $4 to $6 for breakfast items and $3 to $5 for specialty coffee drinks and smoothies.

A coffee station will include a mix of local brands such as Ugly Mug. And grocery items will include oils and sauces, spreads, cheeses, meats, pasta, drinks, chocolates and more.

The grocery’s intent to serve up a daily special of convenience and quality at a key intersection Downtown drove the CCDC to sign off on the loan.

And the partners are now ready to put their skill sets to work getting it off the ground. Hamida Mandani recently got her master’s in business administration degree from the University of North Alabama in Florence.

“We think we’ll bring a quality shopping and restaurant experience,” she said.