The Lawrence grocery store business is a competitive one, evidenced by what seems to be a continual upgrading of stores with new bells and whistles. One of Lawrence’s smaller players in the market, though, is taking that idea to a new level. Aldi has filed plans to tear down its entire store near 31st and Iowa streets and rebuild a new grocery on the site.
I’ve got a call into an Aldi spokeswoman to get more details, but the company has filed a plan at City Hall that says it intends to “demolish the existing building and parking lot in order to construct new Aldi store and associated parking lot.”
The plans call for Aldi to spend $2.5 million to build an 18,985 square-foot store on the property. That is just a bit larger than the current store, which is 15,780 square feet, according to the documents on file at City Hall. It is a little surprising that Aldi is tearing the store down rather than just remodeling and adding on. The building isn’t that old. I believe it was constructed in the late 1990s or early 2000s, meaning that I certainly have clothes in my closet that are older than that store.
If you are not familiar with Aldi, it is a discount chain that has a reputation for taking frugality seriously. The store often had a smaller selection of products to help control costs. For years, the store did not take credit cards, although that has changed recently. It also has gained attention for charging shoppers extra for grocery sacks and for a unique system that threw me for a loop the first time I experienced it: In order to get a grocery cart, you have to insert a quarter into a locking device. You get the quarter back, if you return the cart to the store rather than leaving it out in the parking lot. (At first I hated this system but now I’ve found it is a great way to flaunt my wealth. I leave the cart in the parking lot, telling the world that I’m so rich I don’t care about that quarter.)
Aldi, though, does have a major U.S. project underway to upgrade its stores. The German-based retailer is huge in Europe, and the company announced in recent months that it is becoming more aggressive in the U.S.. It opened its first stores in southern California last year, and in February it announced that it was undertaking a $1.6 billion nationwide store remodeling project.
I’m assuming that the Lawrence store is part of that project, although most of the other stores have simply been remodeled rather than torn down and rebuilt. Again, I’ve got a call into Aldi to get a bit more information.
The nationwide plans announced in February call for improvements to the dairy, produce and bakery departments. New stores also are designed to have more space for growing product lines, such as gluten-free products and a new line of premium baby products. In addition, stores will feature a more “modern design, open ceilings, natural lighting, and environmentally friendly building materials, such as recycled building materials, energy saving refrigeration, and LED lighting,” according to a press release.
In reading up on Aldi, it sounds like it also has a new store design/concept that it is trying in some markets. An article by Business Insider reported the company late last year debuted a new store concept in Richmond, Va., that is designed to compete with Whole Foods. Lawrence, of course, doesn’t have a Whole Foods, but it has lots of similarly oriented retailers.
The article says the new Aldi design looks almost identical to Whole Foods’ discount chain called 365 by Whole Foods. The new Aldi design features softer lighting, larger amounts of fresh produce, wider aisles and and electronic displays on the walls, according to the article.
The new design also features modern shelving, where many Aldi stores rely on the warehouse system of stacked boxes and bins. The new stores still don’t include a deli, but do include a much larger selection of prepackaged meats and cheeses, plus premade dips, soups and salads. The stores also sell some household goods, like pillows and decorations.
I’ll let you know if I hear more details about the Lawrence store, including a timeline for when the current store may close for demolition.