The German discount grocer Lidl has agreed to improve its standard store design in Sandy Springs as part of its entry into the U.S. market, according to Trisha Thompson, the president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods.
Lidl still won’t confirm or deny that it is the unnamed grocer that Stream Realty Partners wants to bring to two Roswell Road locations. But Thompson said that she met in October with Lidl and Stream representatives about store designs. The companies agreed to hire the architecture firm DPZ to redesign the standard big-box look, Thompson said.
“They’re bending over backwards to give the community a better product,” Thompson said of Stream. “They are trying wildly.”
The meeting, Thompson said, was held to address Council of Neighborhoods concerns about stores at the North River Shopping Center at 8877 Roswell Road and the old Marshall’s Plaza at 6337 Roswell. Those concerns are that Lidl (pronounced “lee-dil”) will bring an unwanted big-box look and lower-quality retail and also that the city planning staff is suggesting a zoning change specifically to help the grocery chain.
Jack Arnold, Stream’s manager of retail projects, declined to comment. He has previously said the company is contractually bound not to disclose the grocer’s identity. However, Stream’s site plan for North River is very similar to Lidl’s ideal store layout and size. DPZ did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
Will Harwood of Lidl US would not comment directly on any meetings or store plans beyond the company’s general intent to open stores in Georgia. More broadly, he said the company has a standard store model and sells quality goods.
“Our preferred build is a stand-alone, 36,000-square-foot store, and we’ve worked with some of the best architects to design an attractive and convenient store,” Harwood said. “We are fully committed to delivering the highest quality goods to our customers at outstanding prices, and are confident Lidl will make a great shopping destination for customers in the area.”
Lidl and discount grocery competitor Aldi, also based in Germany, are pushing to expand internationally. The Marshall’s Plaza site is directly across the street from an existing Aldi.
The Marshall’s site is in a special zoning district that limits retail uses to 30,000 square feet and encourages pedestrian-oriented design. Earlier this year, city staff members proposed a zoning text amendment to allow up to 40,000 square feet, without mentioning any specific stores or other reason. That proposed change has gone before the City Council and Planning Commission several times since then, but been repeatedly withdrawn.
Thompson said her organization “pushed back on that like crazy.” The concern is that the proposed change is designed to suit one business and “will just open the door for other big-box stores” in the city’s downtown, she said.
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the proposed zoning change “has been placed on hold at the request of the City Council.” She said the city has no comment on the grocery concept as no formal plans have been filed.
Thompson, whose group is a coalition of citywide neighborhood associations, said a particular concern in the city’s north end is what sort of Lidl they might get. Some media reports suggest Lidl is planning a higher-end version for the U.S. market. Thompson said local residents don’t want a lower-quality store or one that will undercut existing grocers like Kroger’s and Publix.
“They don’t want a garbage-y, big-box discounter,” Thompson said. “And they also don’t want a store-killer up there … with their barracuda-in-a-koi-pond attitude.”
Lidl US’s Harwood, speaking generally about the company’s nationwide plans, said “our markets will offer customers top-quality fresh meat, produce and bakery items, as well as a wide selection of household goods.”
The local concerns led to the October meeting, Thompson said, where Stream was open to altering the store’s exterior looks.
“They don’t control the Lidl. They don’t control what’s inside the box,” she said, but she praised the effort in getting a firm to rethink the exterior design.