Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movin On Up On The East Side


With the grand opening of ALDI in Richardson scheduled for April 22, we finally got a piece of the pie. Literally.

"Smarter shoppers go to smarter stores. Smarter shoppers know better than to pay extra at stores where baggers bag groceries and employees chase carts in the parking lot, or the cost of national brand marketing raises prices. So smarter shoppers shop where select-assortment inventory increases buying power and lowers prices, saving them up to 50% over supermarket prices. Smarter shoppers just 'get it.' And they get it at ALDI."

After the jump, how ALDI is just the latest in a series of redevelopments for an aging neighborhood in east Richardson.

The anticipation of ALDI expanding into Texas has more than a touch of a retail cult about it. The uninitiated cock their heads in puzzlement when told that you're expected to pay cash (no credit cards), bring your own bags (or pay for the store to provide them) and return your shopping cart (or forfeit your quarter deposit). "Shoppers consider that a feature?" newbies ask uncomprehendingly. "Just try it. You'll get it," the ALDI devotees reply. "The prices are delightfully, breathtakingly low" Businessweek gushed in a 2004 story about the German supermarket powerhouse, which it called "Europe's stealth Wal-Mart." ALDI has been steadily expanding in the US for much longer than most people realize and now it's Texas' turn to be won over. Richardson's ALDI on Belt Line Rd just east of Plano Rd opens April 22.

ALDI's arrival in east Richardson is just the latest in series of redevelopments for the neighborhood. There are more winners than losers in the mix and maybe one or two experiments whose outcome isn't known yet. In general, instead of the usual cycle of decay, with upscale retail tenants giving way to downscale retail tenants in the same old aging buildings, the corner of Belt Line and Plano Roads has seen small but real improvement with the turnover.

Most significant was across the street from ALDI, the redevelopment of Richardson Square Mall, the longtime sick man of east Richardson retail. It had become a sorry reminder of what it once was, lately occupied by the kind of businesses you're more likely to see set up shop on a sunny weekend afternoon on an abandoned corner, selling bean bag chairs or kites out of the trunk of a car. The old mall was bulldozed and in its place is now a SuperTarget, a Lowe's home improvement store and a couple of other new retail buildings in between. OK, that probably doesn't command the same prestige as the mall had in its prime, but the mall was long past its prime. It's a step up from what the mall had devolved into. Now, only Sears is left from the old days, an aging dowager who inexplicably holds on long after all her contemporaries have passed on.

Along Plano Rd, there's a new Sonic and a Chick-Fil-A and a bank (apparently, a city can't have enough banks), all new construction. Word on the street is that a new What-A-Burger is coming, too. None of these is upscale, by any means, but the fact that it's new construction is what's significant. In contrast, consider what happened to the old What-A-Burger up the street at the southwest corner of Belt Line and Plano Rd. It was given a paint job and new facade and reopened for business as a cash-for-title loan business, proving that, indeed, it's possible to do worse than a What-A-Burger.

Cattycorner is an example of better redevelopment. There was a mostly abandoned shopping center that once housed a Tom Thumb and Eckerd Pharmacy. That was so long ago that Tom Thumb has moved twice since then, leaving a string of sickly shopping centers in it wake. Instead of the old buildings cycling downward to dollar store to flea market to who knows what, the site was mostly bulldozed and replaced with a new LA Fitness. And, soon, the backs of those old Tom Thumb and Eckerd stores will become a self-storage facility. That may be a step down from their original purposes, but it's a step up from empty, decaying storefronts (which is what they were for years) or a bingo parlor (which is what happened to a nearby abandoned supermarket).

All in all, we're movin on up on the east side. Or at least, we've held back the decline. And that's something.

A couple of postscripts...

First, Rhea Allison deserves some of the credit for this. He ran for Richardson city council on a platform of east side redevelopment. He retired after two terms, saying his work had been largely accomplished. And it was.

Second, there have been three of those "Zoning Change Request" signs in the neighborhood recently. One was for the self-storage facility already discussed. Another was for, I presume, the rumored new What-A-Burger, also already discussed. The third is on Belt Line Rd across from the new ALDI. I have no idea what this zoning change is for. There's a telephone number to call if interested, but come on, shouldn't that be a website URL instead of, or at least in addition to, the telephone number? If there's an easy way to find information about zoning change requests on the City of Richardson's website, I've yet to find it. Suggestion to Greg Sowell: you've been on the job now for a month or two. As communications director for the city, you really should be exploiting the Internet for matters like this. It improves communication and reduces the manpower needed to answer the phones at city hall. Win-win. What's not to like? How about it?

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Well-informed Ian McCann tells me that Richardson zoning change requests can be found here. Thanks for the tip. Next, I still can't find any information about that 'Zoning Change Request' sign across the street from the new ALDI and in front of the Sears store on Belt Line Rd. :-(