What national retailers do not understand about OKC

August 29th, 2009


Just read over at OKC Central that Wholefoods is planning to open a store in Oklahoma City at the Classen Curve, the Aubrey McClendon funded retail vision of Rand Elliott. This is great news!  My wife Maggie (who is an amazing cook) has always been frustrated by the options Oklahoma City offers on things like cheeses, produce, and other specialty items.  In truth, her first choice would be Trader Joe’s – great selection and great value.  She assures me OKC people would like Trader Joe’s more too,  but either way,  a Whole Foods will certainly increase the selection available in Oklahoma City, which is definitely a good thing.

The Classen Curve

What is not a good thing in my opinion, or at least not the best thing, is the apparent location of the new store.  The Classen Curve is hidden away, comparatively poorly accessible, and does not address the need for better grocery options closer to downtown.  My guess is the people at Whole Foods have studied the situation and determined that this location is better than than anything else available, but I don’t think they fully understand our city.  One thing about OKC, that few national retailers seem to grasp, is that the city consists of a patchwork of neighborhoods with varying socioeconomic attributes. And, while there is not a conical epicenter of wealth (Nichols Hills? No, it drops off considerably in almost every direction), there are a number of higher-income nodes that are very accessible to each other, due to: minimal traffic congestion, efficient (i.e. overbuilt) roads, and ample highways. While the immediate demographic ring study may not compare favorably for an area like 10th and Broadway, the location remains very accessible to anyone working downtown, anyone living throughout the historic central city neighborhoods, and anyone as far north as downtown Edmond who wishes to shop at Whole Foods and is willing to drive approx. 15-20 minutes on Broadway Extension to get there.  A typical demographic ring study that might make a more congested and more consistently segregated city look good for retail, will not demonstrate, what is really, a collectively strong buying power available in Oklahoma City.

A study that disproves the weaknesses of Oklahoma City’s income demographics, by proving that the accessibility of buying power is favorable (even if the proximity is not), might help the City to attract similar retailers in the future and draw them to locations that make more sense.  Who knows, maybe it would even convince another grocer like, oh, say….Trader Joe’s to open a store downtown.

By the way, Napa is beautiful.  We are having a great time!…And I still very much look forward to the day we move back to Oklahoma City.

13 responses

  1. Blair comments:

    My thanks to JenX67 for pointing out that this post needed a map.

  2. Blake comments:

    Good points. I’ll tell you the perfect solution. An Apple store downtown. This would make my job less INSANE and would definitely bring retail downtown. Everyone wins! Mainly me, though. No more penn square mall security rent a cops. Get your dad and bro on top of that. Proto.

  3. Nick Roberts comments:

    “Get your dad and bro on top of that. Pronto.”

    That made me laugh.

  4. Chad Reynolds comments:

    Hey Blair,
    It’ll be at the old Hahn, Cook, Draper Funeral home on Classen and Grand. That’s my bet. That’ll increase the visibility, plus mean that it’s not too far from I-44 (for those people coming from Edmond or Norman). You make a good point about OKC not having a central axis of wealth, but this location does make some sense: Nichols Hills is a stone’s throw away, and then just south over 1-44 is Crown Heights and Edgemere. And, really, Heritage Hills (my ‘hood!) isn’t that far. It’s a quick drive up Western Ave and then a left on Grand and bam!

  5. jen comments:

    How utterly discouraging. When I kept hearing it was going up on Classen I assumed it was somewhere between 5th and 16th.

    Sometimes, I wish someone would talk to Homeland at Classen and 18th. They do a ton of business from the historic neighborhoods. They’ve proven loyal to the community. I mean, we make Homeland runs all the time. I’ve talked to the manager a few times. They even started carrying higher end items – like cheeses and breads and packaged meats – to appeal to some of their clientele. It’s a mixed bag of folks who shop there, which is cool – but, can be a little sketchy at night. They don’t stay open past 10, I think. And, I have to say, they have a fabulous deli.

    Anyway, I can understand why Whole Foods would choose that location.

    Thanks for the map!!!

  6. Chad comments:

    You’re right: Homeland on 18th and Classen isn’t that bad. It’s proximity makes it indispensable. I also like the Buy 4 Less (despite the fact of its tacky name, with the number 4 instead of the word “for”) on 23rd and Penn: it has a great selection of strange vegetables, spices, and dried fruit.

  7. dustbury.com » Serving the Whole community pings back:

    […] that Whole Foods would be locating a store along Oklahoma City’s Classen Curve — drew this comment from Blair Humphreys: The Classen Curve is hidden away, comparatively poorly accessible, and does not address the need […]

  8. Brent Wall comments:

    Although there is a concentration of major wealth in Nichol’s Hills, doesn’t it seem more logical for Whole Foods to serve the downtown crowd first? After all, Nichols Hills is awash in specialty foods stores (Avalon Seafood, Crescent Market, Big Sky Bread, Bill Kamp’s Meat, etc..). Would it not be better for everyone if Whole Foods moved in to serve a desperate market downtown and avoided syphoning revenue from our local businesses?

  9. Dustin comments:

    Hey Blair-just noticed this post (and I am not sure what the current status is of the Whole Foods moving in, I keep hearing conflicting nonsense both ways), and I do have to agree with you in the location being strange.

    All that said, Becca and I just moved to 56th and Western, and are stoked to be in the 5 min walk from Whole Foods possibility category, though until I smell hemp sandals and La Fin Du Monde beer, I won’t get my hopes up, simply because we have waited in vain so long…

    TJ’s would make more sense economically, and has so many amazing potential locations (as does Whole Foods), but what I have noticed in travels to lots of WF’s is they tend to locate in semi-modernist, auto-accessible areas, that are, of course, moderately to highly wealthy. While the Classen Curve is so new it doesn’t feel really connected to anything at all yet (save McClendon’s checkbook), it might get there in terms of general outer-city quasi-urbanity, where many WF’s seem to crop up (I am thinking of one in Colorado Springs, and excepting the WF’s in NYC).

    Yet the area is very interesting, and I have been walking around as much as I can in the 3 weeks we have lived here (in the lowest end of the economic cone of the area-a musician’s ‘wage’). I walked to the Pei Wei in the Belle Isle Shops, at peril of my life, and walk up to the various shops/Farmer’s Market at 63rd and Western. Hopefully I will walk almost daily to 105Degrees, as a vegetarian who has long waited for some decent veg food in OKC. That is if I can afford it (they assure me I can).

    Aubrey McClendon mentioned in a recent Gazette article that he envisions the area around Chesapeake as “a second center for the city, after downtown.” He could pull it off as ‘a center,” not the most amazing one of all, but serviceable enough, but it would take some serious streetscaping to make it happen.

    The many spoked intersections of the are offer some interesting potential for flatiron-type building, but only Flip’s has done that thus far. It would be possible to connect the area from Nichols Hills Plaza down to I-44 along Classen and Western, but building up some parking lots, building any sidewalks in the area, and putting more shops and services along the streets would have to happen. The Curve could be a great step in that direction, but tellingly, it has no connective sidewalks outside of itself right now.

    Likewise, Chesapeake Monster itself is still a bit of an island, with MUCH pedestrianizing that needs to happen at 63rd and Western. I have friends who would meet for lunch from Chesapeake at Saturn Grill, and drive. Silly.

    Yet the area needs less help than many spots in OKC, and it has a giant sugar daddy in McClendon and Co. I wish against hope that it could happen, especially moving up here from further downtown (we were at 24th and Robinson), but we well know how slow OKC is to grow these things. It would be great to have our area as a buffer against the blight that is Belle Isle Station, connecting us to the rest of OKC’s good growth, not the suburbanization.


    and do join the conversation on my blog if you get a few moments!


  10. Casey Cornett comments:

    I second that Trader Joes nomination. I am moving to less than a mile away from here so the location fits me just fine. You should check out (if you haven’t already) the first restaurant (and business) to open in the Classen Curve, 105 Degrees. Sweet little upscale vegan restaurant. Opens Sat. 12

  11. Blair comments:

    Great thoughts everyone…sorry for missing out on the conversation. Since moving out to California my blogging has been sporadic and pathetic.

    Dustin – great insights on the possibilities for 63rd & Western area. I will definitely start reading your blog.

  12. dustbury.com » Not quite the Whole story pings back:

    […] doubted any such thing was in the works, though I did mention the subject last year and pointed to Blair Humphreys’ complaint that the store would probably locate on the Classen Curve, a location he considered […]

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