Davis Square has lacked a grocery store since Farmer’s Bounty Grocery closed in 2012. But this changed on Friday, Feb. 24 with the opening of the Massachusetts-based grocery chain bfresh at 240 Elm St.
“We have everything,” Director of Operations Coby Reinhardt said, gesturing across the new store. “Produce and flowers and holiday cards, prepared foods we make right here … a bakery with lots of local bread and pastries, deli, anything that you could want.”
Owned by the same company as Stop & Shop, bfresh has two other locations in Allston and Brighton, according to Reinhardt, though the Davis Square location is the largest one so far.
“If you’re here in the store and look around, you’ll see that there aren’t any other grocery stores within quick and easy walking distance from here,” Reinhardt said. “We’re really looking to fill that space for the Davis Square neighborhood, to be a great grocery store that’s very convenient and is not difficult for customers to get to.”
However, Reinhardt pointed to the location’s manageable size as a distinguishing factor compared to large chain grocery retailers.
“Right here, we’re about 11,000 square feet, whereas a typical Stop & Shop, for example, is probably about 60,000 square feet,” he said. “There’s much more of a neighborhood feel to what we’re doing here and in our other stores in the Boston area, where [you don’t] feel like they’re coming into a big warehouse but that you’re coming into your neighborhood market.”
First-year Jon Adams said he was pleasantly surprised by the pricing of bfresh after visiting the store this weekend.
“Walking around as someone on a student budget, they had a decent-sized amount of ramen for 99 cents,” he said. “From what I garnered, I did not personally think it was that expensive.”
Adams also said that the variety of products provides a new food option for students.
“They had a huge bakery with tons of fresh bread, fresh bagels, they had tons of soups and ready-made sandwiches,” he said. “It’s just nice to have something like that so accessible to campus.”
According to a retail analysis of bfresh’s Allston location written by Samuel Stewart for the research and training charity IGD, the grab-and-go section of bfresh sets the store apart from other grocery stores.
“The food-to-go offer is particularly impressive, with an open design that works really well,” Stewart told the Daily in an email.
He also echoed Reinhardt by saying that bfresh’s size distinguishes it from its competitors.
“This format taps into the trend for smaller grocery stores in the [United States],” Stewart wrote. “With its mix of urban and neighborhood elements, there is scope for this concept in additional locations, especially as we expect to see greater convergence between retail and food service over the next few years.”
However, Reinhardt does not expect bfresh to expand significantly into other areas of the United States any time soon.
“We don’t have plans to start another store in the immediate future, but we’re looking around the northeast,” he said.
The store itself includes features such as a pour-your-own kombucha tea station, which offers four different flavors on tap, and a make-your-own nut butter machine, according to Reinhardt.
“You can grind your own nut butter with this machine,” he said, pointing to the device on a store tour. “All you do is you take a container, stick it under here, press the green button, grind it into the container, press the button to stop it. This is pretty cool, I have to say.”
The store also features a large selection of grab-and-go food, as well as meal kits with pre-assembled raw ingredients for shoppers to take home and cook themselves.
Melissa Woods, senior planner for the City of Somerville, predicted that this grab-and-go section will contribute to the store’s appeal.
“I think you’ll see a lot of commuters using bfresh,” she said. “It’s going to be a really good quick place to grab something going to and from work.”
Woods attributed the prior absence of a grocery store in the Davis Square area to multiple other grocery stores available nearby.
“There is a large grocery store in Porter Square, and the residents have been served in some capacity by McKinnon’s Meat Market, as well as in more recent years Dave’s Fresh Pasta,” she said. “I think it was a matter of economics and density that led to an absence of a grocery retailer within Davis Square.”
Woods said that, in general, Somerville also provides a good deal of options for groceries to its residents throughout the city.
“There, geographically, could be a need filled for a grocery store in the Magoon Square area, but otherwise thankfully food-wise Somerville is pretty well-served by grocery stores,” she said.
Davis in particular is situated in an accessible location to other grocery locations, where residents may choose to shop instead.
“Urban grocery stores usually take their catchment area within a half-mile distance, and they want to compare what the density is within that half-mile,” Woods said. “So a lot of Davis Square’s catchment area has very easy access to that market in Porter Square.”
According to Woods, Davis Square has been undergoing a process of gentrification following the arrival of the MBTA Red Line stop in 1984. Bfresh enters at a time when Davis Square continues to undergo rapid changes.
“Davis Square is loved, there are a lot of dedicated residents, longtime residents,” she said. “Of course, it’s personal preference whether you shop in the grocery store in your neighborhood or not.”