By Bob Uphues
No one will say just who the new tenant for the former Jewel/Osco store at 7401 24th St. in North Riverside will be, but new architectural plans submitted to the village's Community Development Department in the past couple of weeks paint a pretty clear picture.
The plans submitted for the interior buildout of the new 39,698-square-foot grocery store include a detailed floor plan showing where grocery aisles and various departments like produce, meat, dairy and prepared foods will be located.
They also include illustrations of distinctive wall signage and the location of a checkout area that includes six "optical speed lanes" – both pointing to Amazon Fresh as the new tenant.
The firm serving as the tenant's architect is NORR Architects, an international architectural firm headquartered in Canada with offices in the UK, United Arab Emirates and the United States, including Chicago. The firm's portfolio includes significant experience with grocery stores, with Fresh Thyme Market, in particular.
However, the design of the wall signage for the North Riverside store and the "optical speed lanes" – a term used on earlier Amazon planning documents -- leave little doubt that the village will be one of a handful of Chicago-area locations for Amazon's new high-tech grocery store concept.
The interior wall signage includes distinctive all-caps block lettering that appears to be identical in style to wall signs inside Amazon Fresh stores that have opened recently in Woodland Hills, California, and southwest suburban Naperville.
The store's prepared foods area, identified by a sign that says "FRESH KITCHEN" includes smaller signs below for the types of foods being served –"pizza/carvery/sushi/sandwiches/deli" – terms identical to the prepared foods department signage in other Amazon Fresh stores.
A large wall sign depicted in the plans as "Welcome to _____ North Riverside" is otherwise identical to the one that welcomes shoppers in Woodland Hills and Naperville, except that the blank space spells out "Fresh" in larger all-caps letters.
The steel frame of the façade now being erected at the North Riverside store also points to Amazon Fresh as the tenant, with a large rectangle protruding upward in the center of the façade.
The store's entrance will be at the west end of the new retail space. The store will also include a modest seating area at the front of the building, near the prepared foods area on the east side. The proposed layout of the North Riverside store is virtually identical to the one that recently opened in Naperville, which a Landmark reporter visited Saturday.
While it appears the store will have a handful of traditional checkout lanes, Amazon Fresh's concept relies on shoppers taking advantage of its high-tech "dash carts," which are equipped with scanners and cameras.
Shoppers place bags in the carts, which are meant to hold just modest loads of items. As items are placed into bags, the scanners and cameras identify them, weigh produce and tally up the bill on a screen. Shoppers can scan coupons as they shop.
When it's time to check out, shoppers simply wheel through one of the optical speed lanes, which automatically process the transactions using customers' credit card info linked to their Amazon accounts. Receipts are emailed to shoppers.
Alan Saposnik, president of Tower Real Estate Services, who manages the North Riverside Plaza shopping center on behalf of its owner, Federal Construction Inc., said he expects the tenant, "whoever that may be," to take possession of the premises in mid-April to begin the interior build out.
He said he had no idea when the tenant planned to open, and North Riverside Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti said no one else had yet submitted applications for a business permit or liquor license.
Those applications, which would necessarily identify the tenant by name, don't need to be processed until much closer to the opening date.
Saposnik also said he had no tenant lined up yet for a new 14,196-square-foot retail space being created immediately west of the new grocery store. That space had previously been where Osco was located, but was not needed by the new grocery store tenant.