By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal business writer
A Giant Eagle Market District store — described as a gourmet emporium and a traditional food market all under one roof — will be a centerpiece of a new shopping development on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls.
Giant Eagle confirmed Wednesday that the Pittsburgh-based grocer will meet with Falls officials today.
“Giant Eagle will be meeting with local officials ... to confirm plans to make the new Portage Crossing location a Market District,” Giant Eagle spokesman Daniel Donovan said. No further information was immediately available.
The land at the site changed ownership from the city of Cuyahoga Falls to developer Stark Enterprises on Tuesday, after several setbacks and delays. The city purchased and demolished the aging former State Road Shopping Center in 2008.
Giant Eagle and movie theater company Cinemark both agreed to serve as anchors for the new $60 million project, but the grocer previously had not committed to bringing its Market District concept there.
“This is just phenomenal,” Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart said Wednesday afternoon upon hearing confirmation about the plans for a 94,000-square-foot store.
“I don’t think people realize the impact of Market District and what it means to Cuyahoga Falls. It’ll bring in other businesses we haven’t even contemplated, and it’s a huge thrust forward for the city,” Robart said.
The news comes a week after Giant Eagle debuted its first Market District in Northeast Ohio in Solon in Cuyahoga County.
The new Cuyahoga Falls store will be the third Market District in Northeast Ohio and the ninth overall for Giant Eagle. There are four in Pittsburgh, two in Columbus, the Solon store and one coming to Strongsville with an expected opening late next year.
Cuyahoga Falls city development director Sue Truby said details of Giant Eagle’s plans could be discussed at today’s meeting.
“What a boost this will be to State Road, not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but it just has a different feel to it, a different look,” she said.
Truby said she did not have exact numbers on projected employee counts, but expects the Market District store to employ at least 100 more part-time workers than the original traditional store had promised.
In Solon, the former Giant Eagle store had 250 employees; the new Solon Market District has 400.
Robart said he and other Falls officials urged Giant Eagle to bring the Market District concept to Portage Crossing. When he toured Giant Eagle’s grand opening in Solon last week, “I got so excited, I couldn’t see straight,” he said.
“It’s incredible. This is a whole different way of looking at groceries,” Robart said. “They had a row of pre-made salads and you could put everything in the book in it. They were all prepared. It was like a bowling alley length. It was unbelievable.”
The Solon store includes a gelato stand, where the frozen dessert is made fresh on-site daily on equipment imported from Italy. It also has chefs making daily sushi and providing daily demonstrations; a prepared-food section with a pizza shop with a brick oven; a specialty burger station with grilled burgers made to order and served on a signature honey butter bun, and a rotisserie where meats are smoked and roasted.
Solon’s store also boasts a charcuterie station of imported salami and cured meats, and more than 400 kinds of cheeses, including goat’s milk Gouda that’s been aged for six years.
While the store has high-end products that might appeal to higher income shoppers, it also carries generic and traditional store brands for regular grocery shopping.
Laura Shapira Karet, Giant Eagle chief executive officer, said, “What makes Market District work are lots of people, and people who like food. There’s a piece of the economic or demographic part of it, and there’s a piece of education. We look for a unique set of circumstances and like to be part of a good, strong community.”
In a rare interview with the Beacon Journal at the Solon store, she added, “There would be places we put a Market District where we would consider being near a major college town or there’s a lot of higher education. It may not be the most affluent but there’s a lot of curiosity.
“It is designed to appeal to a wide range of folks,” Karet said. “Many of the stores focused on specialty. You have to have a very large disposable income and you can’t do a full shop at many of those stores. We’re trying to be something that’s broader than that. We recognize the economy continues to be uncertain, people are really watching their dollars. Whether you are someone who participates in government assistance to someone who has more disposable income — everyone is watching their dollar.
“A store like this is really designed to be where anyone could shop — even if you only have a couple of bucks in your pocket, you’re going to find really good deals at a store like this.”
Truby said Giant Eagle already knows the demographics of that area of Cuyahoga Falls because of its operation nearby on Graham Road. That store will close when construction is completed on the Market District on State Road.
The Market District could anticipate shoppers from the area formerly called Northampton, where another $36 million in housing was just approved, as well as traffic from Bath Township and Fairlawn coming through the Merriman Valley.
Giant Eagle picked the “best of the best” in studying various grocery markets across the country when designing its Market District stores, said Jim Hertel, managing partner of Willard Bishop, a Barrington, Ill.-based food retail consulting firm.
“It’s a delightful store. They’ve clearly done their homework,” Hertel said.
Robart said while the new Giant Eagle will bring more businesses and consumers to State Road, he doesn’t think that it will hurt business at Acme Fresh Market, the other major grocer in town.
Acme just built a 52,000-square-foot structure over its existing 32,000-square-foot store south of Portage Crossing on State Road.
“Acme shoppers are very loyal. I don’t see it impacting them negatively. I root for Acme. I know we had some differences of opinion on cost. I’m a big Acme supporter and I shop there myself,” Robart said.
His reference to “differences of opinion” were a response to requests in the spring from Acme President Steve Albrecht that sought “equal economic development treatment” for Acme’s new store.
Albrecht said money the city is spending on Portage Crossing and agreements made with developer Stark Enterprises are resulting in the developer eventually recovering all of its investment. Albrecht said he wanted Acme’s project on State Road to result in a similar outcome.
The city said the two projects were not the same and the maximum amount of incentives were given to Acme.
Acme officials were not immediately available Wednesday for reaction to the Market District news.
Robert Stark, chief executive officer of Stark Enterprises, said: “We have all worked together with Giant Eagle to bring its upscale Market District format to Cuyahoga Falls for some time and are thrilled to see our efforts become a reality.”
Stark officials said they expect to announce more stores in the Portage Crossing development later this week. Other confirmed stores include Aladdin’s Fashion Nails, Best Cuts and Menchie’s.