“We were going to get put out of business in Norman,” he said.
Runkle was already eyeing downtown Oklahoma City for a second location. When things began to look bleak in Norman, he decided to move the entire operation into Level Urban Apartments building at N.E. Second and Walnut in Deep Deuce. The new Native Roots opened in mid-October.
In a city where Walmart is king, and most grocery stores a sea of parking, Runkle wanted to offer downtown residents the opportunity to walk to a neighborhood, full-service store. His shelves contain specialty items, but he also carries household staples.
Runkle stocks food items, but don’t come looking for Coca-Cola or Cheerios. He admits that he charges more than larger stores, but stands behind his selection of brands.
“If I sell Cheerios, there’s a high percentage that you’ll compare the price of my Cheerios to Homeland’s Cheerios,” he said. “Of course mine are going to be more expensive. I have the purchasing power of 2,500 square feet, not the combined purchasing power of hundreds of thousands of square feet.”
Runkle uses valuable shelf space to carry hand-selected brands. Depending on the season, about one-third of the inventory is comprised of Made in Oklahoma items.
In looking at how they would fit the downtown community, Native Roots co-owner Sara Kaplan said the store is just the right size to serve area residents.
“A large-scale grocery store wouldn’t really work,” she said. “There aren’t enough people living down here yet.”
Richard McKown, developer of Level, couldn’t be more excited. A Norman resident, he shopped at the first Native Roots location and jumped at the chance to help Runkle and Kaplan move downtown. He also provided built-in customers. The 228-unit Level was fully leased when it opened this summer.
McKown credited city leaders and MAPS projects for revitalizing downtown and making it a place people want to live. Compared to other cities where he has spent time, he said, the grocery signals that Oklahoma City is ahead of the curve.
“Fort Worth has a downtown grocery store and it’s struggling,” he said. “Denver has 19,000 people living downtown, and they still don’t have their first downtown grocery store.”