Local grocer to modernize and expand
One of the city’s oldest grocery stores will soon undergo a facelift and double in size.
The city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority recently approved a development and a reimbursement agreement for the local owners of Ralph’s Food Market, an independent grocery store at 655 Leonard St. NW. Bob and Jeanne Enell have owned Ralph’s since 1996 and plan to invest $2.43 million into their business, with construction set to begin next month.
“We get a lot of walk-in traffic right now. I’ve got about 10,000 square feet and we want to double that,” said Bob Enell, who also manages the store.
The Enells will keep Ralph’s at its current location but will also expand it onto three adjacent properties they’ve purchased. The key location for the expansion is just to the west of Ralph’s at 667 Leonard NW. The building on that site has been vacant since 2004 when a Blockbuster Video store closed after 10 years of operation. The plan is to take that structure down. Houses and parking lots have been on the two other parcels at 1212 Davis Ave. NW and 1225 Muskegon Ave. NW. Both are just north of Ralph’s.
The building the grocery store occupies was built in 1948 and has been a food seller since 1951 when Eberhard’s located one of its stores there. At first, the Enells were going to raze the entire structure but now only a portion will be demolished and the rest will be remodeled. The store’s addition will be built on the former Blockbuster site.
Ralph’s is the only full-service grocery store in the immediate area.
Bob Enell said the project will make the store brighter and more modern. The work will expand the deli and meat counter, create a larger produce section, add a bakery and give the store more parking spaces. “I think we’re going to build the new first,” he said. Ralph’s will remain open during construction.
The Enells are doing business as 3R Foods LLC for the project. When it’s completed, which is expected to be next summer, they will be reimbursed $161,000 for the remediation work they will have done to the site. The reimbursement will come from the tax-increment financing the owners will earn from doing the project.
The work involves removing asbestos and contaminated soils from the sites. Underground storage tanks will have to be removed from the former Blockbuster parcel, which was home to a gas station from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s.
City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said the Enells will add 15 new jobs to their staff once the new Ralph’s makes its debut. The store currently employs 30. Bob Enell said he hopes to fill the new positions with people from the neighborhood.
City commissioners approved the brownfield request in February 2010, but the Enells wanted to wait for the economy to improve before they started the project.
“The Enells are great people and are pillars of the community,” said City Commissioner Walt Gutowski when the board approved their request.
Wood said the state Senate has a bill in a committee that would extend the brownfield law, which is set to sunset at the end of this year. “It is expected that this will be taken care of in the next several months,” she said.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize what goes into this stuff,” said Terry Nichols, brownfield authority chairman, of the public’s perception of what goes on behind the scenes to make these requests work. “This group deserves a lot of credit.”