“We were going to get put
out of business in Norman,” he said.
With the larger square
footage at the national stores, and sales he could not match, Runkle watched his
store go from a $1 million business to half of that in just one year.
He was already eyeing Downtown Oklahoma City for a second location of the store, and when things
began to look bleak in Norman, he decided to move the entire operation into a
2,500-square-foot space in the $24 million Level apartments at Second and
Walnut in Deep Deuce. It opened in mid-October.
In a city where Walmart is
king, and grocery stores are massive with a sea of parking, Runkle wanted to
offer Downtown residents the opportunity to shop at a neighborhood,
full-service store. While his shelves contain specialty items, he also carries
things such as drain cleaner, soap, bread and milk.
But don’t go looking for
Coca-Cola or Cheerios. Runkle stocks his shelves with breakfast cereals and
soft drinks that are not brand specific. He admittedly charges more than larger
stores, but stands behind his selection of brands.
“If I sell Cheerios, there’s
a high percentage that you’ll compare the price of my Cheerios to Homeland’s
Cheerios,” he said. “Of course mine are going to be more expensive. I have the
purchasing power of 2,500 square feet, not the combined purchasing power of
hundreds of thousands of square feet.”
By carefully choosing items
– about half the store is organic – he can use valuable shelf space to carry
hand-selected brands. Depending on the season, the inventory is comprised of
about one-third of Made in Oklahoma items.
Runkle can appreciate brand
loyalty, but encourages customers to try unfamiliar brands that have received
his seal of approval, and which he said are comparable, or in many cases better
than, a familiar brand.
In looking at how they
would fit into the Downtown community, Native Roots co-owner Sara Kaplan said
the store is just the right size to serve current Downtown residents.
“A large scale grocery
store wouldn’t really work down there,” she said. “There really aren’t enough
people living down here yet.”
Jill DeLozier, marketing
director for Downtown OKC Inc., said by her count there are about 8,000 Downtown
Richard McKown, developer
of Level, couldn’t be more excited to bring the store Downtown. As a Norman
resident, he frequented the store, and jumped at the chance to help them make the move. He also provided built-in customers. The 228-unit Level was fully
leased when it opened this summer.
McKown credited city
leaders and MAPS for revitalizing Downtown, and making it a place
people want to live. In addition to pride in his project, McKown said, from his
travels to other cities, the store is a sign that Oklahoma City is ahead of the
“Fort Worth has a downtown
grocery store, and it’s struggling because the population isn’t down there to
make it work,” he said. “Denver has 19,000 people living downtown, and
they still don’t have their first downtown grocery store.”