As H-E-B Sets Its Sights On DFW, South Dallas Sends Out Siren Song For Grocery Anchor
As a native of South Dallas, RedBird Mall co-developer and Russell Glen CEO Terrence Maiden is saddened people in many parts of the South Dallas region continue to live in communities without viable grocery store options nearby.
Maiden, who grew up in Oak Cliff, said the South Dallas community went from grocery store-accessible in the 1970s to becoming one of the roughly 6,500 U.S. food deserts after a wave of closures in the 1970s and '80s.
"There were about seven to eight good grocery stores in the Oak Cliff area, and they all closed," Maiden said. "I am still unsure what it was attributed to. I don't know if it was poor sales performance or if they wanted to put their stores further south. It left a huge void in the Oak Cliff area."
But a recent announcement from grocer H-E-B confirming its northward expansion into Dallas-Fort Worth has raised Maiden's belief that South Dallas, particularly the redeveloping RedBird Mall area, will attract a large-box grocery retailer in the near future to fulfill the needs of underserved communities nearby.
Maiden said it is feasible that beloved Texas grocer H-E-B could land in the massive redevelopment of RedBird Mall under the hands of Peter Brodsky and Russell Glen.
"I think H-E-B would be a terrific fit," Maiden told Bisnow. "They have shown in Houston they can go into very diverse communities and be successful. I think they can experience that same success here in Dallas. What I like about RedBird for H-E-B is RedBird is regional, and typically H-E-B is a regional grocer, and so I think it's a fit for what we are trying to do."
It has been difficult for South Dallas to end its decades-long status as a food desert. Despite much public discussion about the need to get fresh produce and big-box grocers in areas like Fair Park, Oak Cliff and neighborhoods around RedBird Mall, South Dallas is still trying to shake the stigma that stores left the region decades ago because they couldn't survive or that they can't survive today.
Part of the problem is in how stores decide where to locate. Until recently, many grocers justified their investments in certain communities by looking at census tract data and determining from that information whether nearby household incomes and demographics could support a certain food concept, said Venture Commercial Real Estate Vice President Ryan Smith, who handles grocery deals.
But the emergence of tech tools like Placer.ai, which tracks the amount and type of traffic a retail center attracts daily by recording cellphone movements, could help prove South Dallas is able to support major or specialty grocers.
"Placer.ai has a unique True Trade Area feature that can show the specific breakdown of the trade area of any property," Placer.ai Vice President of Marketing Ethan Chernofsky said. "The ability to move beyond a simple 3-, 5-, or 7-mile radius allows demographics data to be applied with far more focus, enabling deeper and more accurate perspectives on a retail location."
Smith has come to rely on cellphone tracking data and sees it as a positive tool in his fight to tell the true story of South Dallas' retail potential.
"I am definitely on the side of how can I present data in a manner that is first of all accurate and to help show a different lens or perspective on the opportunities in South Dallas," Smith said.
Smith has found discrepancies between census tract data on the RedBird Mall area and the type of shopping traffic he is seeing in Placer.ai data.
"I have a project at RedBird Mall, and we have a Starbucks there," he said. "Any time of day that I go to that project, the line is wrapped around the building."
Smith ran a Placer.ai traffic report on the Starbucks store and compared the system's traffic and income findings to what appears in traditional census reports. Not only was a high volume of traffic coming into the store, but many shoppers had incomes well above the roughly $55K median income level attributed to the neighborhood, according to Smith.
"The income levels and the traffic that it was pulling from the cellphone data was counter to what we would probably see on a typical census data report," Smith said. "It just shows there is definitely a different story here than what is necessarily being reported on a census data report."
Maiden said he believes pent-up demand across South Dallas and farther south supports the development of not just one standard big-box grocery concept but multiple retailers, including specialty and boutique store concepts.
"Anything from an H-E-B to a Kroger to even a Sprouts or a Trader Joe's. I think the community can support both concepts. I don't think it's one or the other," Maiden said. "There shouldn't be just one grocery store. There should be three or four coming in just because there is a lot of population in areas that are considered grocery deserts in Oak Cliff."