After decades without a full-fledged grocery store, Salt Lake City’s Marmalade neighborhood finally has a fresh food market that sells everything from potatoes and pork to diapers and dog food.
The new Lee’s Market, which opened Feb. 6 in the street-level space of the 4th West Apartments at 255 N. 400 West, will serve thousands of residents living in nearby apartments and condominiums constructed in recent years.
The market also is expected to draw from residents in the west Capital Hill area and be a go-to eatery for students, faculty and staff at West High School, across the street.
On Thursday, the Salt Lake Chamber had barely finished its ribbon-cutting ceremony, when students Crystal Tovar, Daniella Munoz and Andy Tran came into Lee’s looking for snacks.
“It’s a lot closer than Smith’s, where we normally go, " said Tovar, adding that the store’s loft area with tables and a television “will be a nice place to study" during her free period.
After all, she explained, “if you go the school library, you can’t have food.”
The new Lee’s Market is the sixth location for the Utah-based grocery and the company’s first in the capital city, said president and CEO Jon Badger, whose parents, Lee and Shari, started the company in 1981, when they bought the old Jack’s Foodtown in Smithfield.
Since then, Lee’s has been a grocery mainstay in Cache and Weber counties, with stores — called Lee’s Marketplace — in Logan and Ogden. In recent years, it has expanded, opening a stores in Heber City and North Salt Lake.
When developers of the 4th West Apartments approached the company about a Salt Lake City store, Badger said he initially envisioned just an upscale convenience-store that would offer soda and snacks.
But as the project progressed, it was clear the area needed something more. Company officials traveled to urban markets in Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis to get ideas for the new space.
The result is "a full shopping experience,” Badger said, "not just for the adjacent apartments but for the whole Marmalade district.”
The urban outlet has a smaller footprint than other Lee’s, he said. But the company has managed to squeeze almost everything shoppers might need — except a pharmacy — into the 9,800 square feet of space. Besides the basics — like produce, meat, frozen foods, canned items and toiletries — the store has a large section for drinks, a deli for sandwiches, sushi, a salad bar, rotisserie chickens and prepared meals to go.
There also are a few “firsts” for a Lee’s Market — including a gourmet cheese island, with a dedicated cheese monger, a coffee bar and a beer cave.
To fit everything customers might want, Lee’s kept the kitchen space small, Badger said. So some items will be baked, cut or prepared in the North Salt Lake store and shipped to the Salt Lake City location.
Badger said the store will employ between 50 and 60 people and will be open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Besides delivery and curbside pickup, a security door goes directly into the 4th West Apartments, so tenants don’t have to walk outside to get their groceries.
So the shopping options are growing in an area that had once been labeled a food desert, with residents having to drive to Smith’s Food & Drug in the Avenues or, more recently, Harmons at City Creek or The Store, which opened a new location last summer inside the nearby Gateway development.
Steve Miner, president of market development for Associated Food Stores, said the neighborhood probably hasn’t had a traditional grocery store since the late ’80s. "It was an era where downtown was changing,' he said, "and the grocery stores went away.”
Today, however, that section of the city is being revitalized, and apartments and condos are sprouting at a rapid rate. There are 500 units, alone, at the 4th West Apartments and at least another 1,000 in surrounding buildings with more on the way.
Any fears about the potential for success of the new concept went away last week, Badger said, when the company mistakenly sent out a mailer — and a coupon for a free bag of chips — to area residents saying Lee’s Market was “now open.”
The response, while premature, was overwhelming, he said. “Tons of people came with their coupons."