The term “urban food desert” typically refers to neglected and often downtrodden areas of a city that due to geography, poverty—and occasionally, historical systematic hostility—lack all kinds of basic amenities.
Until a few weeks ago, one of Denver’s most prominent food deserts also happened to be in the most densely populated part of town. No more, because a shiny, new King Soopers now sits at the corner of 20th Street and Chestnut Place. Although it was the redevelopment of Union Station that launched this area’s rebirth, the full-service grocery store could end up being its linchpin.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this outlet is that it’s almost as big as any King Soopers you’d find on a bigger parcel of land. The store has a deli and prepared food counter, fresh meat and fish sections, a dessert station, a sushi bar, and a farmer’s market worth of produce, including a host of Colorado-grown and organic products. Its freezer section is vast and so cold they should hand out parkas before you walk through it—i.e., it’s exactly how a freezer section should be. Even though the whole place is fully stocked, the store is developing a feel for the neighborhood’s tastes before it starts providing more esoteric foods, and they can still order you almost anything you want if given enough notice.
It’s difficult to overstate the subtle but glorious impact a good grocery store can have on a neighborhood. A few years ago, we rented in the TAXI complex near Brighton Boulevard, and during our short time there we repeatedly mused about how great the area would be once it was fleshed out a little more with everyday retailers. Back then, the closest chain grocer was more than two miles away, the “UnSafeway” near Park Avenue and Downing Street, so nicknamed because of its sketchy surroundings and, let’s say, uninspired employees.
But with so much new construction in the Union Station neighborhood and its surrounding areas, over the past few years a full-service grocer morphed from a luxury to a necessity. This one has a friendly and helpful staff, something other KS franchises—(cough) 13th Avenue and Speer Boulevard—might want to emulate.
I have but one quibble so far: The store’s checkout area and parking garage may become too cramped as more people settle into the surrounding businesses and apartment complexes. But those are solvable problems, and this new food oasis should be the anchor tenant that will help turn this long-evolving neighborhood into a permanently pleasant one.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.