At 2,000 square feet, the Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market that opened this month in downtown Colorado Springs is tiny by grocery standards; a typical Safeway is nearly 30 times bigger, while a Walmart Supercenter could swallow 100 stores the size of Bread & Butter.
Regardless of its small size, however, Bread & Butter is expected to play a big role in downtown’s growth and development — though it has some big challenges ahead, too.
Downtown advocates long have sought more housing in the area. Now, hundreds of apartments and lofts have been developed downtown, and at least 1,000 more apartments are on the drawing board over the next five years.
The influx of housing makes a grocery among the essential amenities that downtown needs to serve the growing numbers of renters, along with office workers and even residents of nearby Mill Street, Hillside and other housing areas.
“Up until now, we haven’t had anybody living downtown,” said Gary Feffer of the Fountain Colony commercial brokerage, who’s marketed properties in the area for many years.
“Now that we’ve got what’s already come online and what’s being planned, for these people that are living here, they need options — more than Safeway 3 miles to the south and Safeway 3 miles to the north,” Feffer said.
That’s what Bread & Butter owners Stacy Poore and Aubrey Day say they hope to provide — an easy to reach, corner grocery for downtown residents, many of whom have chosen an urban lifestyle because they want to walk or bike to nearby restaurants, coffee shops, bars and entertainment.
Bread & Butter, at 602 S. Nevada Ave. on downtown’s south edge, is two blocks south of the 33-unit Blue Dot Place apartments, which opened in 2016, and the Kinship Landing hotel that’s targeted to open late this year. The 171-unit 333 ECO apartments, a few blocks farther north of the grocery, opened two years ago.
The grocery also is two to three blocks east of The Mae on Cascade, a new 177-unit apartment building; the 27-unit Casa Mundi apartments that opened this year; and a 260-room dual-branded Marriott hotel scheduled to open in 2021.
“It’s a corner market (store), kind of what we saw in the old days and what you see in bigger cities and across Europe,” Day said. “It’s not a new concept. But it’s kind of new coming back to the Springs. We got in such a big-box mentality for such a long time. It’s time to circle back and there’s a real desire for this walkable, accessible, small-scale, customer-focused type market.”
Bread & Butter, which opened Sept. 4 and held a ceremonial grand opening last week, sells meats and cheeses, Colorado-grown produce, frozen foods, grab-and-go meals, sundries, pantry staples and other items. An 800-square-foot liquor store adjacent to the grocery features beer, wine and spirits.
“It’s the convenience factor,” Poore said. “You have the ability to come into the store, get a nice meal that you can heat up at home. Grab a greeting card, a bottle of wine, essentials that you need for the house without having to stop a couple of different places.”
Poore, former chief operating office for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, and Day, who’s worked as a healthy environment planner with El Paso County Public Health, had met briefly doing volunteer work together, they said.
Separately, each had an idea about launching a grocery, and joined forces after being brought together by a mutual friend.
Assembling the neighborhood grocery concept took time, Poore and Day said. They spent at least two years developing and researching their idea — running numbers “over and over and over” while consulting with small businesses, entrepreneurs and suppliers.
Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, conducted a feasibility study for the pair; her research predicts not only will the store do well, but that it might need to expand into larger digs after its initial success, Poore said.
“We aren’t just a couple of gals with what we think is a cool idea,” Poore said. “It’s actually well-researched.”
In early 2019, Poore and Day launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project. They fell well short of their $50,000 goal but have been able to secure funding from private investors, individuals and lenders.
They also received a $30,000 grant from the Downtown Development Authority, the quasigovernmental agency that promotes the area’s interests. And, they’ve invested their own money.
Poore and Day also have had help from downtown supporters and business people who want to see a locally owned and operated grocery make a go of it.
Feffer, the commercial broker, read a news story in early 2019 about Poore and Day’s plans for the grocery. He contacted the pair, offered his help and showed Poore and Day several potential downtown sites for their store.
They wound up leasing a building on South Nevada co-owned by Feffer and downtown property owner Joan Mullens.
“It’s been what many have called it for decades, a food desert,” Feffer said of downtown’s lack of a grocery.
“Now with something like this, the uniqueness of a small market, where you can go in and get all of your sundries and all of that, which is walking distance, which is bike distance, or in some cases, a short drive distance, that’s something all downtowns need,” he said.
The Downtown Partnership advocacy group has touted the need for more housing in the area for years. Now that apartments and lofts are arriving, a grocery store has become vital, said Laurel Prud’homme, a Downtown Partnership spokeswoman.
“The fact that we haven’t had a grocery store that is easily accessible has definitely been something that we have heard people asking about,” she said. “There’s been a desire for a really long time. It was a chicken-and-egg kind of situation, where no grocery market was going to go in before there were residents and some residents didn’t want to be there until there was easy access to groceries.”
But groceries aren’t new to downtown.
In December 2005, the Tejon Street Market at 321 N. Tejon St. in the heart of downtown, which also billed itself as a neighborhood grocery, folded after just 1½ years. It was followed at the same location by the Tejon Street Grocery & Deli, which also shuttered.
Owners of the stores faced stiff competition from larger groceries, whose numbers have only grown over the past 15 years.
Safeway, Walmart, King Soopers have multiple locations; Whole Foods has a popular following; and Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and Natural Grocers have entered the market or expanded their presence.
Downtown, however, has changed dramatically since the Tejon Street groceries closed. In addition to the hundreds of apartments built and occupied, one hotel opened last year in downtown and three more are under construction.
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in southwest downtown, meanwhile, opened in July and a multiuse stadium for sports, concerts and other events is scheduled to debut next year. Both are expected to anchor redevelopment efforts downtown while drawing visitors to the area.
“People have asked us about that quite often — ‘it’s been tried before,’” Poore said. “It was tried before. But we feel strongly that it was probably before its time. There’s a critical mass of people now living in or near downtown, where maybe 10 or 15 years ago that really wasn’t the case.”
Parking is key for any downtown business, and Bread & Butter shoppers who don’t walk or bike can park their cars in a 60-space lot that the store shares with an office building, Poore and Day said.
Also, the store is on a Mountain Metro bus route for shoppers who prefer mass transit.
Bread & Butter’s liquor store also will be critical to its success, the owners said.
Margins on liquor sales are higher and will allow Bread & Butter to realize profits and keep its food at more reasonable prices, Day said.
“That’s really the only way we can survive,” Poore acknowledged. “The margin on a package of celery is going to be so small. But people need celery. And there’s a reason why people aren’t clamoring to open grocery stores downtown, since the margin is very small.”
Bread & Butter won’t try to be a big box with 25 brands of toothpaste, Poore and Day said. But it will seek to prioritize customer service and provide a range of items that shoppers want.
“This isn’t going to be a Whole Foods or a totally organic market,” Poore said. “We’re going to have a wide variety of things for a wide variety of customers.”