Tidal Creek survey shows mostly favorable reaction to proposed downtown move

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Tentative survey results show most respondents are looking forward to a downtown relocation, though a strong minority aren't quite as excited. Photo courtesy Tidal Creek/Jeff Branch.
Tentative survey results show most respondents are looking forward to a downtown relocation, though a strong minority aren’t quite as excited. Photo courtesy Tidal Creek/Jeff Branch.

Tidal Creek customers are mostly pleased with the natural foods store’s proposed move to downtown Wilmington, although a strong minority doesn’t want to see the local fixture change its longtime location.

That’s according to tentative results of an online survey meant gauge the community’s reaction to a future exodus from its midtown spot on Oleander Drive. Tidal Creek released the feedback collected thus far on Monday but the poll will remain open for those who still want to weigh in, marketing director Shaylah Paul said.

Paul said approximately 550 people have responded to the survey since its release in late January. Of those, 54 percent – or 297 – said they had “positive feelings” about the relocation and were “excited” to see a downtown Tidal Creek.

But a strong minority of 253 survey-takers aren’t so sure. Results show that 31 percent – about 170 – are definitely not happy with the possibility, and another 83 want more information before making up their minds.

Formed in 1982, the co-op has been in its current location for more than a decade. It began eyeing the downtown market a year ago, declaring in March 2015 its intent to seek input and begin searching for a suitable downtown site.

It’s a pursuit prompted in large part by the emergence in recent years of nearby big-box chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, both of which offer organic and alternative fare and are located along Oleander Drive just a few miles from Tidal Creek.

The shop has seen its sales steadily drop since 2012, when it took in approximately $5.25 million. This year’s figure is hovering around $3.75 million, according to the co-op’s board of directors.

The community-owned store also recently lost adjacent parking and green space at the former Cinema 6 theater. The co-op leased the space from UNC-Wilmington, which owned the property. But when UNCW sold it last year, it changed Tidal Creek’s tenancy status.

And the store hopes a move to a more urban environment will help fill a gap in a food desert lacking available healthy food options within walking distance of surrounding neighborhoods.

While downtown is the desired area, Paul said Tidal Creek isn’t looking for space on a busy main strip like Front Street. It’s a spot that another Wilmington fresh foods business, Farmin’, scooped up last month to open a scaled-down retail version of its larger Emerson Street campus. The 6,000-square-foot grocery store at 143 N. Front St. is set to open this summer.

But Paul said Tidal Creek would prefer an outlying spot better suited for space requirements and in closer proximity to residents needing better access to groceries.

While there are some unhappy co-op customers, those who remain undecided appeared to still be committed to the store, regardless of where it ends up. The survey asked those with “mixed” emotions if they’d still be willing to renew their membership or join up for the first time. Overwhelmingly, that group was supportive, with 71 percent of people saying they would, indeed, do one or the other, depending on their current membership status. And another 30 percent of those looking forward to the downtown location said the move would encourage them to join up for the first time.

As Tidal Creek continues to collect feedback, Paul said the board and staff are still looking at potential sites but still aren’t set on any particular spot.

“There are still a lot of moving pieces that we’re still working on,” Paul noted. “Nothing is finalized yet.”

Paul said Tidal Creek hopes to have an update on the possible move by mid-April.

Click here to see survey results. The online survey may be taken on Tidal Creek’s website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.