Giant Food Stores will be opening a two-level urban flagship store in downtown Philadelphia as part of the company’s ongoing expansion in the city, company president Nicholas Bertram said in an interview.

The 65,000-square-foot store will open in PMC Property Group’s River Walk development project on the Schuylkill River’s eastern bank. The store at 60 N. 23rd St. will be in Tower 1, the first of two towers under development.

The Carlisle-based company expects the store to open by the fall of 2020, along with more than 200 new jobs, and a free onsite parking garage. The new store would be just two blocks from the Trader Joe’s at Market and 22nd Street.

Philadelphia’s population has grown for the last dozen years, outpacing such suburban counties as Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester, census data show. As people moved back into “a vibrant city,” Giant hadn’t been there, Bertram noted.

Philadelphia's Growth Trends

The city reached a population peak of over 2 million in 1950, then proceeded to lose over a half-million residents over the next 56 years …

… but, starting in 2006, Philadelphia started to gain in population again, and in 2018 posted its 12th straight year of growth.

Change in population from the previous year

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

The company has a full-sized store on Grant Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, which has been there since 2011, but there weren’t others downtown, Bertram said. So, in October 2018, during the company’s 95th anniversary celebration in Dilworth Park, Bertram announced Giant’s first urban store concept, called Giant Heirloom Market.

These stores are smaller than the full-sized Giants, such as the one opening in the River Walk project, and are personalized to each neighborhood with local vendors such as ricotta cheese from Claudio Specialty Foods and ricotta cannolis from Isgro Pastries.

So far, Giant has opened two Heirloom stores: one in January at 2303 Bainbridge St. and the second one earlier this month in University City at at 3401 Chestnut St. The company also plans to open the urban format stores in Northern Liberties at 1002 N. Second St. by late October, and in Queen Village at 201 South St. by the first quarter of 2020.

Now, Giant hopes the new urban flagship store and Heirloom Markets will show customers the company is invested in providing groceries beyond delivery services to Philly residents.

Giant has 181 stores across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia and more than 32,000 employees. In Pennsylvania alone, the company has 158 stores and 29,000 employees.

Giant said the new flagship store will take inspiration from the Heirloom Market model and dedicate shelf space to community vendors. There will also be options for customers to order online and pick up in store or have the groceries delivered. In addition, this store will have Giant’s largest plant-based department.

There will be an outdoor terrace at this two-story location, where shoppers will be able to eat their food or drink a glass of wine. Bertram said it will mostly be a public space, but the company plans to have options for people to reserve it for events. There will also be opportunities for a small stage with live music, he said.

Giant's lease at River Walk was brokered by Metro Commercial's Steve Niggeman and Iryna Iryk.

“Judging by the stage of development the River Walk project was in, it was really perfect as far as the timeline that Giant was also looking for, so it presented itself as the best option,” Niggeman, a principal and executive vice president of brokerage services at Metro, said in a statement.

Marty, Giant’s 6-foot-5-inch, 130-pound, gray and googly eyed assistant who scans aisles for such hazards as a fallen bag of sugar, will be in the urban flagship store, Bertram said. “We’re fully deployed now,” Bertram said, referring to how Marty is in most Giant stores.

"This is a huge leap in getting human beings comfortable and interacting with robots,” Steven Keith Platt, research director at Northwestern University’s Retail Analytics Council, said in January after Giant’s announcement. “It really puts robots in front of people in a retail environment. It’s the first of many more to come in the next several years.”

While millions of jobs could be displaced by automation, according to a 2017 report from McKinsey Global Institute, Bertram said at the time that Marty would not be replacing workers. Instead, he would be “replacing tasks.”

Customer have been taking a lot of selfies with the robot, Bertram said. “It’s funny. It’s on social media,” he said. The robot’s “core responsibility” of identifying hazards is also “being executed very well,” he said.