By Craig A. Ruark
It’s a long way from Portland, Maine to Reno, but then again, it is also quite a leap to go from a career in high-tech to owning a grocery store. However, those are the transitions that Denise Barcomb, Chief Inspiration Officer and President of THE Urban Market has made in her life, and she has never looked back.
The Urban Market, at 303 3rd Street, is a 2,800-square foot neighborhood grocery. In addition to a complete selection of grocery items, THE Urban Market also has a full-service espresso and smoothie bar which also doubles as a beer and wine bar where customers can either take home or sit down with a friend to enjoy a variety of roughly 100 craft beers and 60 labels of wine.
Thinking that she wanted to become a veterinarian, Barcomb initially enrolled at the University of Maine as a pre-med student. “The spring semester of my sophomore year, my schedule included microbiology, advanced physics, calculus, organic chemistry, and genetics; I realized that I did not want to do this for another seven years,” said Barcomb. So, she left college and spent the summer in England with a college roommate, working as chambermaids and exploring Europe.
“That experience opened my eyes to the world, and it [quitting college] is probably a good thing because I found out that I am way more entrepreneurial than I realized,” commented Barcomb.
After Europe, Barcomb tried many fields of employment that included merchandising, marketing, sales, retail, and business development, but in 1988, she ended up gravitating to the computer world and working for an Apple computer retailer in her hometown of Portland. That job lead her to another small computer company and a move to Denver, Colorado in 1991. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Barcomb fell in love with the mountains, the wide-open spaces, and the sunshine. She enjoyed over six years living in CO when, in 1997, a new start-up opportunity presented itself in Reno. “Single, at the time, and feeling the wanderlust, I decided to write the next chapter of my life in Nevada,” explained Barcomb.
Once in Reno, Barcomb realized that Nevada held all the beauty and opportunity she had left behind in Colorado, and more importantly, she met her now-husband, Dale. “That sealed the deal.” They were married in 2001.
Barcomb and her husband became 7-Eleven franchisees, and eventually, after a 25-year career, she left the computer industry to work in commercial real estate. “It [the computer industry] was a wild ride, and a lot of fun, and it lasted a very long time,” quipped Barcomb.
In 2015, while working in commercial real estate for a title company, Barcomb spotted her dream building which lead to an epiphany moment and the dream to build an urban market in downtown Reno.
“When I was a kid growing up there weren’t these big grocery stores. You didn’t shop at mega-stores, especially in New England. Everybody had their neighborhood, and every neighborhood had a neighborhood grocery where you could get everything you needed,” Barcomb recalled.
Barcomb, and her husband, first approached the 7-Eleven company about their idea but was turned down. “I tried three ways to get their attention and get them to look at the idea, and finally, on the last attempt, they actually had a couple of people come out and walk downtown and the 3rd Street Flats with me, but they didn’t have the vision for the concept, they absolutely hated the idea and the location,” said Barcomb.
Undaunted, Barcomb decided to take on the project without a corporate sponsor, and after 17 years with 7-Eleven, Denise and Dale decided to sell their last 7-Eleven and signed the lease on the future Urban Market location in December of 2016.
Barcomb knew how to merchandise product on the shelves and was somewhat familiar with sourcing product from the standard vendors that supply convenience items, but “Boy have I learned a lot in the past 18 months when it comes to interfacing with the natural grocery world such as organic suppliers, fresh meat, seafood, and all of those vendors,” she exclaimed. To support the local economy, Barcomb teams with over 45 local bakeries, artisans, farmers, and ranchers that are also part of the community. Those decisions and types of products were needed to make their market interesting, exciting, and different.
Their concept is very customer oriented, and the items they choose to stock are driven by customer requests that come through a suggestion box that personalizes the customer experience. “We are fostering remarkable relationships with our clientele who are really the cornerstone of our success.”
Barcomb’s goal is to offer a “Cheer’s-like” community experience where they recognize each customer and greet them by name all while offering quality, selection, and value. When was the last time the proprietor of your grocery greeted you with a handshake or a hug and helped you pick out the perfect melon?