Did you go by the new Harris Teeter since it opened on Wednesday? Odds are pretty good that you did.
In a small town like New Bern, folks here can be relied on to try something new. Remember when Cook Out opened?
On opening day, I saw city officials including Jeff Odham, in whose ward the new Harris Teeter is located, and City Manager Mark Stephens proudly roaming the vast floor space of the gleaming new store.
Coke Mann, a partner with Columbia Development Group, developer of the shopping center, was quoted in the Sun Journal crediting Odham and Mayor Dana Outlaw for their bringing the super-expanded HT to New Bern.
I saw lots of regular people combing through the almost 100,000-foot feet of shopping space, which is more than just a simple supermarket. (Some say the store actually has 105,000 square feet of floor space.)
We are not wedded to a particular grocery store. We shop at Publix most often, but not exclusively, and mainly due to its modern and wide selection coupled with its less crowded aisles.
With the opening of the new Harris Teeter, that may change.
The store replaces a 55,000-square-foot store on South Glenburnie Road, which closed the day before the new store opened.
It is claimed to be the largest Harris Teeter out of the chain’s 246 stores. Some media outlets have called it the largest in the world, but since its world is pretty much contained within Southern states, that’s a somewhat pretentious claim.
Still, it’s plenty big, and within it are sections that by themselves are impressively large.
There is a Starbucks inside the Harris Teeter, just as there was at the old location, but this one has a dining area that has to make this particular Starbucks one of the largest in the world, and that’s saying something.
Then there is the food court, contained within an area that could be a nice-size grocery store all by itself.
There is a bakery, fresh produce and meats, a deli, a sushi bar, a buffet, a burger bar, a specialty bar with changing themes, and a bar-bar. Yes, a bar … where you can get beer and wine by the glass.
As for the grocery aisles, they are so long they are subdivided, with a third row intersecting at the middle. Looking from one end toward the other, the aisles extend almost as far as the eye can see.
Filling all those aisles with merchandise must be a challenge by itself. I have not looked deeply into it, but the few places I did look showed a much-expanded variety of brands and varieties.
Staffing this store must be equally challenging. I counted six people working at the Starbucks counter, four at the burger bar, three at the beer and wine bar, and so on.
I am not sure if they staffed up for opening week or if they plan to maintain that staffing level.
Sarah, Mark and I went there on opening day and had dinner. We bought a couple of items from the grocery aisles before going home.
We returned on Saturday to find the same buzz one encounters when surrounded by hundreds of happy people. The store is large enough to accommodate a thousand customers without feeling overly crowded.
Sarah got several selections from the sushi train and described the quality as good as any restaurant in New Bern. I went for simple–a burger and fries. The way I figure it, if you can’t do a burger and fries right, then what can you do right?
And boy, did they do it right. It paired nicely with the glass of Mother Earth pale ale that I got at the bar.
While waiting for my order, I ran into four people I knew, and that’s the great thing about a venue like this. It’s a magnet that draws people together, and for more than one purpose.
Before, you would go to Harris Teeter for groceries. Maybe you might grab something from the salad bar or deli or the Starbucks counter, but there was really nothing that set it apart from any other modern grocery store.
This Harris Teeter is not just a retailer, it is a community amenity. You can literally spend the day there, enjoying a fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a couple of glasses of beer or wine later in the day before actually doing any grocery shopping.
Note: the beer and wine bar opens at 10 a.m. daily except Sundays, when it opens at 11 a.m. But who’s judging?
The parking lot is large and full but sufficient and well laid out. Other stores in the shopping center, which is called New Bern Marketplace, round out the remaining two-thirds of retail floor space at the 34-acre, 325,000-square-food retail venue.
One thing it has over Downtown New Bern: parking is not limited to two hours.
So what can you expect at the Teeter?
Greeting you as you arrive at one of the entrances is the floral counter managed by Mary Gierie-Merrell, who Mayor Outlaw has described as New Bern’s unofficial mayor.
At that same entrance, off to the right, is the Starbucks counter with its spacious and open dining area. It is equipped with tables and booths and two big-screen TVs. The window-wall is lined with a long counter with tall chairs for computer users and enough USB ports and electric sockets for every two chairs.
Beyond is the amazing food court, and to its left, the expansive grocery aisles.
One glitch was WiFi. Though it is provided, I was unable to connect to the internet using it. Another quibble is that if you want to sit at a table and plug in your device or computer to a power source, there are just two tables within range of just one wall socket, and they are right underneath a big-screen TV. That may be by design. It is understandable why a store would not want its tables taken up by people using computers all day.
The impacts of the new Harris Teeter on New Bern will be interesting to see.
It will undoubtedly cut into business of other existing grocery stores. But being so large, it will draw shoppers from outside New Bern and maybe from outside Craven County.
When the N.C. 43 connector is extended from U.S. 70 to U.S. 17 in the next few years, it will make access to New Bern Marketplace easier to reach from Pitt and Lenoir residents. It’s already the easiest retail center to reach in New Bern from Jones and Onslow counties.
As I said, this Harris Teeter is not just a store, it is a community amenity.
Harris Teeter’s previous largest stores, measuring at 80,000 square feet of store space, are located in Pinehurst and Charlotte.
The New Bern store is only the second location to have a juice bar.
It is the first to have a build-your-own burger bar.
I seem to always be confused with the operations of this great city of ours. The Sun Journal ran an article last week announced the grand opening of the new art gallery on South Front Street. This group, now called “Community Artists Gallery and Studios” is the same one that was forced to abandon their previous location on Broad Street due to water issues. But, isn’t this also the group the old Firemen’s Museum is being modified to accept? I recall our Board of Aldermen voted to spend $25,000 to update the city’s building on Metcalf Street to accommodate this identical group.
It appears the artists have already found an alternate place where they may actually operate as proposed when they offered to lease the old Firemen’s Museum. It was never clear to me why they offered to pay just $500 per month for the city’s space, and that figure sounded much too low to me. I recall the Mayor mentioned a more rational rate might be closer to $2,500 per month. Then, for reasons I never understood, the Board of Aldermen voted to look into a scheme where the city would take over the operation of the building and make spaces available to the artists. They would also make space available to other artists not a part of the original group on Broad Street.
So, what went wrong? The impression I got from listening to all of this was the city assumed the original CAW group would take the majority of the new spaces and extra spaces would be made available on a first-come-first-serve basis. I could be completely wrong, but it seems to me that the solid base of artists the city expected to participate has flown the coop. And, quite frankly, that doesn’t surprise me. I thought at the time all of this was evolving that the city was trying to usurp the whole idea that was the basic design of the CAW group.
Instead of renting the Firemen’s abandoned building to the CAW and allowing the group to sub-rent and manage the space as they proposed, the city decided to turn the whole idea to the city’s advantage. Now, I do not know what actually happened, but I would have been really upset if that happened to me. I would take my marbles and go elsewhere. And, that appears to be what has actually occurred.
So, the real question today is, “Are there enough total paying artists in this area to fill the available spaces on South Front street as well as the spaces in city’s building on Hancock?” If the answer is “Yes” then we have no problem. If the answer is “No” the city seriously needs to rethink this whole idea of becoming the owner/manager of an art gallery. I hope this is on the agenda for the very next BOA meeting. It is very possible we are wasting a pile of tax payer dollars to build something that is unnecessary.
The real question I would like to have answered is, “Why did the city fail to negotiate a reasonable rent and accommodate the artists?” I cannot believe the artists are renting the building on Front Street for $500 per month. But, is the rent $2,500 per month? You see, there was a correct rental amount that would have satisfied the city and the artists. But, we never got to that point because everyone went off half-cocked and failed to work this out rationally. At least, that is what I think I have witnessed. Please tell me I am wrong. Better yet, please tell me this is going to end well.