Holy S***, a grocery store is coming Downtown

Outside the storefront for The Handy Stop on Jefferson Street. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: Well, it’s a market. But it sells meat and produce and general merchandise, so it counts. Handy Stop Market & Café is slated to open on Jefferson Street this fall.

Owner Bradley Cruice thinks the time is “ripe” (his pun, not mine) to move on the Downtown market. A “data-driven guy,” he says the idea to open Handy Stop, named for the small chain of grocery stores his family owned in New Orleans when he was growing up, popped in his head about three years ago while touring Downtown with the Leadership Lafayette program. Seeing incoming residential development and new employers, he decided to seize on the first-mover advantage to put a store on the ground before bigger developers got hip to the district’s momentum.

“Everyone can say anecdotally that we need [a grocery store], but when you start spending money you need to make sure you have the customer base to support that,” Cruice tells me. He notes that Waitr’s decision to move a headquarters on Jefferson Street, among other relocations, sealed the decision in his mind that his concept would work. According to a press release, around 200 new residential units are in development around Downtown and 6,000 people work in the area. Downtown right now has about 100 residents within the taxing district.

The small-scale market will focus on healthy options and food on-the-go. Cruice, a nurse by trade, co-chairs Healthy Acadiana, a coalition dedicated to promoting health and wellness in the region. Handy Stop will stock local produce and meats, including grass fed beef from a local farm, and serve lean fare from its deli. At 3,500 square feet, the storefront located at 444 Jefferson Street, at the intersection of West Congress, will also have a drive-thru to capture convenience shoppers, like parents picking up their kids from nearby schools or folks picking up supplies on their way home from work.

Cruice sees a market on the rise. Planting his flag now is making a bet that Downtown’s recent momentum bears fruit (my pun, this time) in the long run. “I think it’s coming to fruition,” he says. “And we forget about the customer base that already lives there and works there.”

It’s small, but let’s focus on what matters. It’s a grocery store. In Downtown. For as long as I’ve been covering Downtown (admittedly not that long), the idea of a grocery store in the district was pretty much wishful thinking. Other grocers have sniffed around recently, Downtown Development Association CEO Anita Begnaud says, but conventional, big box concepts have not seen the residential numbers to justify opening around Jefferson Street. Meanwhile, lack of key amenities — people need to eat and buy toilet paper and stuff — has contributed to Downtown’s residential quagmire.

“The whole chicken and egg thing has been going for a decade,” Begnaud tells me. “I think this shows the pieces are finally falling into place.”

What do you want the Handy Stop to stock? Cruice will soon roll out signage with a QR code linked to a survey. He says he wants to get feedback from Downtowners on what he ought to stock.

Why this matters. Again, it’s a grocery store. Downtown. If Downtown is going to be a neighborhood, rather than a CBD by day and a raucous street party by night, a grocery story is a necessity, not a perk.