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Whole Foods top survey pick for Dixie redevelopment

June 09, 2010 - What used to be a Farmer Jack in the center of White Lake Commons off Dixie Highway and White Lake Road still sits vacant.

"There is a need for an anchor store there," said Penny Shanks, executive director of the Clarkston Area Chamber of Commerce. "There are several in that plaza and they are struggling. We've seen Main Shoes go out of business. We've seen Curves go out business."

Shanks along with other members of the chamber set out to do an online survey to see what kind of grocery store the community would like to see in the White Lake Commons. Between Jan. 28 and March 30 1,932 people took the survey and received responses from Clarkston, Davisburg, and Waterford ZIP codes.

"I was really impressed at the response. I expected a couple hundred. With Survey Monkey, you can check to see how many people responded that day," Shanks said. "It never seemed to be dying. It seemed like it was constantly active. People were telling other people. Part of how we did the survey was testing our social media of how we communicate including Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and press release."

Shanks said economic development is not something the Clarkston Chamber has really done, but it has been done by larger chambers.

The survey showed 77.2 percent felt it was very important a grocery store be there, because it would provide competition, convenience, increased selection/ quality, protect property values, offer jobs for community, and help generate business foot traffic.

"There is a lot of interest and passion for something to go in there," Shanks said. "They would prefer an upscale grocery store to go in there."

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The survey included store from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart. The top three choices included Whole Foods with 41.60 percent, Trader Joes, 23.60 percent and Nino Salvaggios at 22 percent.

Shanks said it's really a "matter of choice."

"For a variety of reasons they listed in the survey as to why they want a choice, they're already leaving our community to find that choice," she said. "If we could have that locally, that helps everybody."

Other questions on the survey included concerns of a service station at the White Lake Commons with the store – 86.5 percent said "no," while 13.5 said "yes."

"I was surprised there were that many people who felt that it was not a concern. I'm not surprised 13.5 percent did have a concern. They were talking about things like traffic flow and water table," Shanks said. "We have a pretty educated community here and those are the types of things you'd want to discuss before you add something like a service station into the area."

Shanks said the chamber decided to go further than just the survey.

"The grocery stores do their research, they have a lot of data they do ahead of time looking at the demographics, looking at the competition, looking at if it can be sustainable, looking at how much it cost to rent the building to their need," she said. "What we really wanted to demonstrate to them was on behalf of the community there is a huge interest and support for this to come in. Whatever we can do, we want to help make that happen."

Shanks said she personally really likes the Spartan stores, which includes VG's, because they have a "strong sense of community."

"You see that also in the Whole Food's model and Hiller's. These are stores that when they join a community they are part of the community," she said. "From my standpoint that's what I prefer, I want that in here."

Shanks said their data is not just good for grocery stores, but for other businesses as well.

"Part of what we're looking at is, yes we need some data quickly now, but how we can tap into data that remains fresh every six to twelve months," she asked. "We know who our community is and to be able to provide that to the chamber businesses, help them access information so they can help strengthen their business. I think that could be hugely valuable."

Eighty people joined the chamber since Dec.

"That's huge," she said. "These are new businesses that are starting up, there is synergy starting to happen again."

Shanks has seen the huge difference Salvation Army, which also was a Farmer Jack on the corner Sashabaw and Waldon Roads, has made with foot traffic in that shopping plaza.

"You see it on the charts. You hear it in reports," she said.

"This is why you need an anchor store. This is what happens, we need this – we need it for our Dixie."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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