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Two new grocery stores will change the face of westside shopping

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It's hard to imagine the undeveloped plot off Lava Road, between NW Arizona and Colorado avenues as a bustling, commercial hub.

The three-acre lot is one of the few remaining bits of wild West in old Bend, a lot that along with the visible smoke stacks, reminds passers-by that the Old Mill was once filled with lumber workers and logs—there wasn't always an American Eagle.

But with development plans announced, that is about to change.

Eugene-based specialty grocery store, Market of Choice, purchased the lot in May of 2011 for $1.7 million, and has announced plans to build a 35,000-square-foot grocery store and 114-space associated parking lot on the vacant land just off the Bend Parkway. President of Market of Choice, Rick Wright, said that the design for the store would be similar to their South Eugene location, featuring the same array of departments and an outdoor seating plaza.

"It's a model that has worked out very well for us," said Wright, "The architecture fits in very nicely in Oregon."

Market of Choice boasts eight locations across the state of Oregon, and employs over 700 people. Big news for the local economy, Market of Choice will bring new jobs in initial construction and retail once the store is fully operational.

"We'll be bringing people in for the specialized trades, but we typically try to use local as much as possible," said Wright of the store's construction.

Once open, "a store of this size would typically have between 130-180 employees," said Wright.

While the addition of the store to old Bend is an exciting prospect, a timetable for construction is hard to nail down. Market of Choice has spent the last few years preparing for expansions, and Wright said that the Bend store is third in-line behind other projects including a store in Jackson Hole, Wyo. and another in the Portland market. This means the ground breaking for the Bend store is a few years out.

"The land use final approval has a two-year window, so we have to go in for permits within two years," said Wright.

While offering new shopping options to downtowners, the store will undoubtedly change the character of the surrounding neighborhood. Discussions have taken place at Old Bend Neighborhood Association meetings in which residents expressed pedestrian crossing and traffic concerns. City of Bend Transportation Engineer Robin Lewis said that the effects of the development, positive and negative, are hard to estimate.

"An endless set of scenarios exists. An example might be someone on the north side of the neighborhood shopping at Rays or Safeway westside—they might drive past their neighbors to get to these stores," said Lewis in an email. "If they now choose MOC, they may still drive—or it may be close enough to walk or bike. So it was difficult to say what impacts the store would have on trips within the neighborhood."

Wright said that an easily accessible location was a must for the expansion.

"I wanted a store that was centrally located, but in Bend, it's hard to be considered centrally located," said Wright, "We've been able to make it work. I'm excited about the location. It will be easily on the way home for a lot of people, and on the way to and from the mountain."

It's not just MOC who see the stretch between downtown and the Old Mill as an ideal place to develop. In August, Leadership Circle LLC, a development agency based in Montrose, Colo., proposed a 1600-square-foot specialty supermarket off Colorado Avenue on Industrial Way, according to staff with the city of Bend.

Plans are still tentative for the 1,600-square foot supermarket, but Leadership Circle LLC's previous commercial developments feature strip-mall style architecture.

These proposals mean that the shopping habits of old Bend residents are about to become a lot more diverse. Rudy Dory, owner of Newport Market, a main gourmet food source on the westside, said he is not sure how the opening of Market of Choice would affect his business, but he isn't worried.

"We're not anymore concerned than when Ray's opened up 10 or 12 years ago," said Dory. "We focus on what we do best, and we've been a part of the community for a long time. Hopefully people appreciate that, and reward us by shopping here."

Market of Choice will surely deliver competition for other stores, but will also offer convenience for local shoppers who are located downtown between the westside and Third Street grocers.

City Manager, Eric King, said that he hopes the addition of Market of Choice will be a catalyst for other development in the area.

"That's an area of town [where] we want to see more activity to better connect downtown to the Old Mill," said King. "To see an active use [for that space] is good for the city." SW

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