Matt Runkle knew a downtown grocery was a top priority for area residents, but as he prepares to open his Native Roots Market in Deep Deuce, he has encountered some visitors who simply couldn't wait for it to open.
“A lady came in four days ago and started shopping,” Runkle said. “She was taking products off the shelf. We had another guy come in, he started browsing the aisles, and you could tell, he was already in the zone.”
Cathy O'Connor, director of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, isn't surprised by such reactions. She ranks a downtown grocery as the top priority for the city's growing urban population.
“The No. 1 thing people ask me is, ‘When do we get a grocery store downtown?'” O'Connor said. “Even though Native Roots is small, it's designed to meet the needs of the downtown market, and it will definitely help with perception of the availability of amenities for downtown residents.”
Runkle and his wife, Sara Kaplan, began planning for the relocation of their store from Norman to the Level Urban Apartments in Deep Deuce last March. In July, they and their infant daughter, Stella, moved into an apartment above the grocery.
Though the couple initially planned to keep their Norman store open, they changed course as they confronted the increased competition posed by Natural Foods and Sprouts Market. At the same time, they witnessed a better-than-anticipated potential market in Deep Deuce.
When first wooed to Deep Deuce by developer and longtime customer Richard McKown, Runkle and Kaplan were led to believe their grocery was needed to help lease the apartments.
The apartment complex at NE 2 and Walnut Avenue, however, was fully leased when it opened in July — even though the grocery was still under construction. Construction since has begun on more apartments at NE 4 and Oklahoma Avenue, and more for-sale housing on The Hill at NE 2 and Russell Perry Avenue.
“That's when we realized, ‘Oh wow, the demand is already down here,'” Runkle said.
Kaplan said much of the emphasis on locally produced foods and goods created by family businesses that the couple had with the Norman store will stay intact in Deep Deuce.
Kaplan estimated they carry items created from 100 local vendors that range from meats to goat milk and wooden toys. She said they get heritage pork from a farmer who can't produce in bulk amounts sufficient to satisfy a single Whole Foods store, yet is well set for a store like Native Roots.