It was like it was Triple Coupon Day.
There were smiles all around at Lawrence City Hall on Tuesday night as city commissioners unanimously gave final approval for Dillons to replace its existing grocery on south Massachusetts Street with a larger, more modern store.
“Dillons really went out of its way to help put the neighborhood at ease and make a lot of accommodations,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell, who lives a couple of blocks from the store at 1740 Mass. “This is going to be a real signature building for the whole neighborhood.”
Tuesday’s approval clears the way for the project to receive a building permit, but Dillons officials weren’t yet ready to put a firm timeline on when construction would begin, which will require the existing store to be closed and razed. Company officials said it could be another two months before work is ready to begin at the site.
“But I can tell you we have contractors looking at the project right now,” said Lynn Howitz, construction manager for the project.
Company officials did confirm that work has started to build a temporary pharmacy in a vacant storefront on the southwest corner of 19th and Massachusetts streets. Company officials said the decision was made after hearing concerns from neighborhood residents about losing access to their regular pharmacy during construction.
The construction project likely will take 10 to 12 months to complete. Brian Folmer, director of real estate for Dillons, said the company will put out plenty of advance notice before the store closes. He said the company likely would have special sales to reduce the amount of inventory that would need to be moved from the store.
When it reopens, the store will hardly resemble the current facility.
“I think we’re really going to change the environment down there,” Folmer said.
Among the improvements will be:
- A store that is about 10,000 square feet larger than the current facility, meaning wider aisles and a more open design;
- A Starbucks coffee shop, a sandwich grill, a Chinese deli, a sushi bar and an outdoor dining area along Massachusetts Street;
- A dedicated organic foods section.
- An expanded pharmacy with a drive-thru lane. The drive-thru lane will be off of New Hampshire Street.
The store also will look different on the site. The main entrance of the store will face north instead of facing west toward Massachusetts like the current facility. The project also received variances that will allow the two sides of the building to be constructed nearly to the edge of Massachusetts and New Hampshire street, giving the project more of a downtown feel.
Several of the design issues — especially the lack of setbacks and the pharmacy drive thru off of New Hampshire Street — created concerns for the nearby Barker neighborhood.
But Dillons made several design changes to the project, including prohibiting vehicles from exiting onto New Hampshire Street. On Tuesday, no one from the public spoke in opposition to the project.
“City staff and everybody involved really did an excellent job of making sure that the facility will be top notch for the residents and for our customers,” Folmer said. “We really think it is going to be a flagship store for us.”