Newtown supermarket opens next week

Countdown extends its capital reach

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 13:05 30/11/2012
Countdown Newtown
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

Countdown's Newtown store is in the final stages of preparation for its opening on Wednesday.

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Supermarket giant Progressive Enterprises is mounting a $53 million pitch for Wellington shoppers.

Its first new store in Wellington in two decades, a $26 million Countdown in Newtown, is scheduled to open on Wednesday.

This will be followed within months with big new supermarkets in Tawa and Petone, and the company is looking for other opportunities to challenge its rival Foodstuffs chain right in the heart of Wellington, says Progressive chief executive Dave Chambers.

The Newtown store had been in gestation for a long time, he said.

It took years to get the site, but even then the company had to do a three-level development, with the store built on top of two levels of parking.

The development was cramped by Foodstuffs' acquisition of the neighbouring old Tip Top bread factory site.

This meant Progressive was not able to provide the sort of open parking preferred by many supermarket customers.

Chambers took a snipe at Foodstuffs' spoiling tactics, saying ''they put a lot of money into an underperforming asset that indicated a certain mindset''.

However, it also showed ''healthy competition'' in the supermarket business, which had been slated as a duopoly.

Preferring to focus on the positive, Chambers said he was delighted with the new supermarket, which would serve Newtown and the hospital area.

But it was just part of a belated and challenging effort to lift market share in a region and city where Progressive's Countdown brand was under-represented.

''It is not easy to find land and it's really tough to find a site large enough for what we want to offer.

Where the central city was dotted with rival Foodstuffs New World stores, the nearest Countdowns until now were at Crofton Downs and Kilbirnie.

Chambers said the company wanted to put more stores into the centre of Wellington.

They had been looking for some time for the right spot to open a smaller Countdown store, similar to one it opened in central Auckland last year.

The former Whitcoulls store in Lambton Quay is believed to be one option under consideration.

Progressive has previously denied an interest in the site but Chamber is now less emphatic.

''You'll have to wait and see,'' he said before commenting: ''There are a number of pretty good sites around the Lambton Quay area that would be great for a Countdown store.''

Chambers said he would be looking at the options while he was in Wellington next week.

Earlier plans for a central Wellington store were aborted last year when Progressive relinquished the lease on a vacant car yard site opposite Te Papa.

Chambers said they gave up on that site because it was not economically viable. There was also difficulty amalgamating the six sites required.

Progressive has also been interested in developing a nearby site in Wakefield St which is now the car park backing onto Reading Cinemas Courtenay Place.

''We've been linked with that site on an off for a period of time. We don't own ... but if there was a development that enabled us to come into that area we'd love to be involved.''

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Chambers said the last new Progressive store in Wellington was the Queensgate Countdown (formerly Woolworths) supermarket.

But they were now looking to make gains with the $26m invested in its Newtown store, another $21m in Tawa and $6m more fitting out the Petone store, which is being developed for it by the Redwood Group.  The three stores would employ a total of around 550 staff.

Contact Hank Schouten
Property reporter
Email: hank.schouten@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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