Downtown Sandy Springs is bustling with grocery stores, with a new grocer filing to enter the already saturated market, which means more choices for residents and competitive pricing. But in the North End of the city, there are significantly fewer options and proposed stores for the area have not panned out.

In October, Lidl, a discount German grocery store, filed a permit with the city to open a store in Sandy Springs in the City Center Crossing Center at 6337 Roswell Road.

Lidl has filed with the city for permission to open a new grocery on Roswell Road. The image shows a typical Lidl store. (Special)

Within a 2-mile radius of the hub of Sandy Springs, City Springs, which is just a block from the proposed Lidl, there are seven major chain grocery stores: Aldi at 6336 Roswell Road; Kroger at 227 Sandy Springs Place and 4920 Roswell Rd; Publix at 6615 Roswell Road; Sprouts at 4600 Roswell Road; Trader Joe’s at 6277 Roswell Road; and Whole Foods Market at 5930 Roswell Road.

Tosh Wolfe, the director of retail services at real estate firm Colliers International’s Atlanta office, said downtown Sandy Springs is an ideal market for grocers because of its mix of urbanism and suburbanism.

“Looking at Sandy Springs demographically, it is a great opportunity for grocers,” Wolfe said.

But the North End, which spans about 4 square miles, is a different story, with only two grocery stores of the same chain remaining which Alana Rhone, an agricultural economist at the U.S.

Department of Agriculture, said could potentially not offer the best prices or quality because of the lack of competitors in the area.

“A food store with no close-by competitors may not offer the best prices or quality,” Rhone said in an email.

Rhone said the variety of stores found in the downtown area can be beneficial for consumers in terms of the quality, price and options.

“If a number of food stores are relatively nearby, competition on price, quality, selection of products and other store attributes is likely to be greater, which could benefit consumers,” Rhone said.

Wolfe said the 2-mile radius retailers once used to determine whether a store would be successful is an outdated concept. Today they think in terms of traffic patterns and travel times.

“It is an old-school grocer way,” Wolfe said. “You drop a pin and see if there are any other stores within a 2-mile radius.”

Wolfe also said downtown Sandy Springs attracts grocers wanting to test their model on families that purchase larger amounts of groceries over urban cities like Atlanta where most people live in apartments with little to no room for grocery storage.

“You have affluent families that live in single-family dwellings that eat at home more than they eat out,” Wolfe said. “There will be bigger-ticket grocery shoppers here than an urban environment where people are living in highrises.”

This is not the first time Lidl has tried to expand its chain into Sandy Springs, or even to City Center Crossing.

Stream Realty Partners proposed a location in 2016 at the North River Shopping Center at 8877 Roswell Road and was eyeing City Center Crossing, formerly known as Marshalls Plaza.

In 2017, the proposal was driven out amid community concerns about traffic and demands for higher-end retail in the North End. Lidl also withdrew from its contract to purchase the location at City Center Crossing.

Although the previously planned City Center location was not as far along in the planning process, Lidl has restored the plan, but there have been no permits filed to revive the North End location.

In the North End of the city, there are two grocery stores: a Publix at 7525 Roswell Road and another at 8725 Roswell Road.

The North End is the area of Sandy Springs stretching from Dalrymple Road in the south to the Chattahoochee River in the north, and from the Dunwoody border on the east to the west side of Roswell Road.

The city has plans to revitalize the North End. It includes many middle- and lower-income households.

According to the USDA, in 2015, an estimated 12.7 percent of US census tracts were considered low-income, as defined by poverty rate and median incomes.

In a report released in May about understanding low-income areas with low access to healthy food across the nation, the USDA found the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell statistical area, which consists of metro Atlanta, to have 42.6 percent of neighborhoods as low-income and 21.7 percent of the low-income/low-access neighborhoods to be between 1 and 10 miles of the closest grocery store. Low access to healthy food is defined as being far from a supermarket, supercenter or large grocery store.

The USDA uses a radius of about 3 miles when determining where there are “food deserts” — areas where low-income and low-access areas overlap. It also examines areas where there are neighborhoods that are close to one grocery store or one type of grocery store, but far from a variety of stores.

“Obviously, areas that were far from any store had access issues,” the report reads. “However, areas that were close to one store but relatively far from a choice of stores may have had similar access issues—including lack of access to competitive food prices, quality and selection.”

Wolfe said the lack of grocery stores opening in the North End mainly comes from a lack of demand from the middle-income market in the area.

“There is a difference in the way people think about their purchases,” Wolfe said. “Wealthier people will buy organic or obscure items, whereas middle-income [people] will only buy what they need.”

In the last few years, the North End has experienced another grocery project being killed, as well as a staple store closing.

A proposal to develop a Kroger-anchored project with hundreds of apartments and townhomes and several commercial buildings on Pitts Road in the North End evaporated last year due to public concerns with it relocating a historic family cemetery.

In Oct. 2017, a Kroger in the Northridge Shopping Center closed after more than 35 years of business. The store has experienced declining sales over an extended period of time and its closure was necessary, according to a Kroger spokesperson.

The closure was seen by city officials at the time as an opportunity to bring in higher-end retail and fueled their effort to promote redevelopment in the North End.

In June, the building that formerly housed the Kroger was bought by Rafat Shaikh, the president and CEO of Safeway Group. At the time, Shaikh said he was negotiating with “several” potential tenants. In November, an interior demolition permit was issued to the property for an unannounced project.

Shaikh did not respond to a comment request.

The shopping center is one of four on the North End being studied by Sandy Springs for redevelopment potential. The city is currently searching for a firm to conduct the study.

In the downtown district, in December 2018, the Publix at Sandy Springs’ Prado Shopping Center closed. The store had been open for nine years but had been underperforming for some time, according to a Publix spokesperson.

Wolfe said the saturated grocery market will level out over time as people begin to settle into their travel routines and their preferred stores.

“It naturally has a way of sorting itself out with supply and demand,” Tosh said. “But overall, the emergence of new competitors speaks very highly of Sandy Springs.”

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.