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Good Neighbors

Ukrop's future is uncertain, but what about the tenants next door?

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There's an old real estate maxim for retailers: Location is everything, so study the market before you sign a lease. Or simply seek out the closest Ukrop's. Never mind that the family-run grocery chain is closed Sundays, one of the two most important retail days of the week. The foot traffic that the 28-store chain generates Monday through Saturday more than compensates for the lost business on Sunday.

While speculation heats up about the possible sale of Ukrop's Super Markets, the attitudes of the smaller retailers — restaurants and smaller boutiques — offer an interesting peek into how times have changed. Or not.

“One of the main reasons we chose the shopping center was Ukrop's,” says Bob Phipps, co-owner of School Crossing, an educational toy store in the Harbour Pointe shopping center off Hull Street Road, near Woodlake. It was Phipps' second location. He opened his first store in Williamsburg 19 years ago, and the Richmond store in 1996. 

Phipps liked being next to Ukrop's so much that he relocated the Williamsburg store in 2001, next to Ukrop's off Monticello Avenue.

“It wouldn't hurt if they were opened Sundays,” Phipps says, though he doubts that would generate much additional traffic. He is, however, concerned about the possibility of Ukrop's being sold. “I'd hate to see a family business disappear,” he says.

King Louie's Salon, also located in the Harbour Pointe shopping center, has a little more at stake. Many of the salon's customers are Ukrop's customers.

“It's the draw. People come in here for Ukrop's, and that's when they discover all the other shops,” salon manager Beverly Bendrick says. “A lot of our elderly clients make a day of it.” (King Louie's also closes Sundays, atypical for salons.)

If Ukrop's were to be replaced, Bendrick says, “I think it would be a detriment to a lot of people.”

For four and a half years Brent Lantz has co-owned Rudino's Pizza and Grinders with his sister on John Rolfe Parkway in Henrico County. The Ukrop's that anchors the Short Pump shopping center has a rare amenity: a YMCA above the store. “We knew it would be a good place because of the foot traffic,” Lantz says.

Though if Ukrop's were bought out by, say, Harris Teeter — the upscale grocery chain many analysts say is the most likely suitor — he says he wouldn't be opposed.

“I think Harris Teeter would be a great move,”  says Lantz, who previously lived in Raleigh, N.C., where Harris Teeter has 10 stores. “I think it would be great for business.” Because Ukrop's is closed Sundays, Lantz says, several other stores in the shopping center also close on Sundays. “Our generation is not so focused on ‘Sunday is a day of rest,’” the 35-year-old entrepreneur says.

Marti Shelton, the owner of New Sounds, a hearing aid store a few doors down from Lantz, couldn't disagree more.

“We'd be very disappointed [if Ukrop's were replaced]. We love Ukrop's,” Shelton says. “Their clientele is our clientele.” Unlike Rudino's, New Sounds is closed Sundays, though Shelton says it has little to do with Ukrop's. Selling hearing aids isn't exactly retail — people don't typically window-shop for medical supplies.

Chris Stewart, who owns The Pump Pour House restaurant and pub, shares his Short Pump location with the Ukrop's on Pump Road. But that's where the relationship ends. The Pour House, which recently held its fourth annual bikini contest, isn't exactly dependent on the blue hairs who frequent Ukrop's there.

But Stewart doesn't mind the exposure Ukrop's brings, he says: “It's a point of reference to tell customers where you are.” S

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