The sidewalk crates at Bridge Street Market—each wooden, weathered and about the size of a golf cart—were empty last week, but labeled with playful drawings in advance of the store’s grand opening, which was held on Wednesday. One is for cauliflower, another for corn, another for melon and so on, all lining the corner at Bridge Street and Seward Avenue, quietly guarding the next outpost in Meijer’s grocery and retail empire.
Just past the empty crates, people hustled behind broad windows, tapping away on phones or typing on laptops. Wine was stocked on the racks. Products were materializing on shelves throughout the store.
At 37,000 square feet, the space offers a more boutique feel, enhanced by a broad range of local products, and spearheads a reported new set of company stores in denser urban settings. Meijer calls it a “model for future neighborhood-friendly development” in a nod to changes the new store—and its sprawling new development—is bringing to Grand Rapids’ West Side.
The new market is the anchor tenant in the Rockford Construction development expected to include both affordable-housing and market-rate living, as well as retail space, office space and more. As recently as last week, workers were still finishing construction elsewhere on the project, but many area residents and businesses are already excited about what it means for the neighborhood.
“I think this is going to bring a lot of business,” said Victoria Guerrero, a cashier at the Mexican diner Maggie’s Kitchen who also lives in the area. Not only is it good for foot traffic, but she’s looking forward to a short, easy trip for groceries.
In a release, Meijer corporate bills the store as food-focused, with “a full assortment of fresh and prepared foods.” There will also be about 2,000 “local, artisan groceries” available. A spokesperson for Meijer said no tours of the space were available prior to Wednesday’s opening, but said the company hired between 45 and 50 employees to staff the market. Its products are not currently available through grocery services like Shipt.
The new store is a big boost to the West Side neighborhood, said Annette Vandenberg, executive director of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, bringing jobs and easier access to groceries to area residents. There’s a history of poverty in the area that Vandenberg traces back through the 2008 housing market crash and beyond, and some residents are accustomed to lengthy bus rides to buy food. The new store, she said, helps change that.
“My daughter, she lives here on the West Side,” Vandenberg said, imagining her simple trips down the street to buy food with family. “How cool is that? You get some exercise and some fresh air. You pick up what you need from the grocery store and you come back home.”
Like Vandenberg, city planning director Suzanne Schulz sees the neighborhood improving. To hear her tell it, Bridge Street Market, Rockford’s construction and other developments in the area sound like part of a West Side renaissance.
“I just think that it’s exciting to see the voids that we’ve had in portions of our city filled with things that can add to the quality of life in our community … it’s certainly fulfilling what they see as market potential in the future.” Schulz said. “We’ve added more than 5,000 housing units in the city in the past decade, and the majority of those have been downtown and near downtown.”
With increasing quality comes questions of gentrification and what impact the development will have on rents throughout the neighborhood. Adam Mast, who said he lives nearby, said the West Side was once an easy place to find an inexpensive apartment, but that low rent is all but impossible to come by nowadays. He added that it’s hardly this project’s fault, though, but part of a bigger, deeper trend.
Vandenberg acknowledged the same trend. But she said it’s come with plenty of benefits; and in the case of Rockford Construction’s new project, it’s expected to include affordable housing units.
“The fact that I can now walk up and down Bridge Street with my kids and not have to worry is pretty cool,” she said. “The fact that I have a lot of friends working over there, and they have good-paying jobs, and they don’t have to stress about how they’re going to provide for their families—those are all wins.”
*Main photo by Sam Easter. All other photos by Graci Harkema.