CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Head into the Wine Loft on the second floor of the Whole Foods grocery store in Charlotte's South Park neighborhood and you'll see people sitting at wooden tables with their laptops doing work. You'll also see friends gathered to have a glass and chat.
On the other side of the store in the cafe seating area you might find high school students doing their homework or gathered to work on class projects.
"You can come and be yourself, or be yourself in a crowd. The lighting is great, it is a gathering place for the community and it definitely reads that way for me," Stephanie Rhodes, who is an associate store team leader, said. She says she regularly met up with friends at the store before she was employed there.
If you stop to pick up a few groceries at the Harris Teeter in Charlotte's South End neighborhood on a Tuesday evening, you'll likely see plenty of people bellied up to the bar. That's right, there's a full bar in that store with 16 different beers on tap and eight different wines by the glass. Tuesdays are $3 draft night so it is one of the busiest times at the store.
"We want to deliver what our shoppers want and our shoppers want a place where they can gather. Grocery stores are turning into a social hub," Danna Robinson, who is the communications manager of Harris Teeter, said.
Phil Lempert agrees. He's a supermarket industry expert and says the grocery store landscape in Charlotte is changing. "If you take what is happening in Charlotte, it isn't happening in the rest of the country yet," Lempert says.
He attributes the unique landscape to the sheer number of millennials and "foodies" in the Charlotte area.
"We're seeing high-density fabulous food stores in this city, more than in most others, and that's why there is a large gathering of grocer-ants," Lempert said.
Lempert defines a grocer-ant as a combination grocery store and restaurant with full service, wait staff and bars. The restaurant can either be in the store or immediately next to it but owned by the supermarket chain.
"They want to get you in the door, and keep you there. They want to be the source of all of those aspects of food and the more they build the relationship with you, the less likely you are to shop around. You'll be less likely to look around for 10 cents off of a can of peas. In the end they make more money off of you," Lempert said.
Both Harris Teeter and Whole Foods say they like the trend and customers should expect to see even more of it. In fact, Harris Teeter builds and designs its stores with remodels in mind 10 years down the road.
Lempert believes the next significant trend and change for grocery chains is the increased presence of Amazon in stores like Whole Foods. He calls Amazon's Alexa the number one supermarket chain in the world, considering the ease of ordering groceries and having them delivered.
"The intelligence Amazon is bringing to the grocery business hasn't been seen before," Lempert said.