For the design and construction professionals involved in the development of the country's first all-LED supermarket—Star Market's Chestnut Hill, Mass., location—it was like a trip into the unknown. But the results have paid off by creating a contemporary shopping-market experience.

Star Market has long been a fixture in Massachusetts. The Star Market Chestnut Hill location, in particular, has operated for 60 years at the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, which sits at the corner of Boylston Street (Route 9) and Hammond Street. In 2006, Eden Prairie, Minn.–based Supervalu created its Shaw's/Star Market division by acquiring the two venerable New England food purveyors, amassing a total of 200 stores, including Chestnut Hill.

But as the surrounding residential neighborhoods and population increased, the Chestnut Hill location outgrew its physical footprint. Coupled with changing consumer needs and a new breed of supermarket that focuses on organic products and produce as well as prepared specialty-food sections, it was time for the Chestnut Hill store to move into the 21st century. After a two-year renovation that included a complete demolition of the existing single-story store, the new two-story 53,000-square-foot Chestnut Hill Star Market opened in October 2009. Built on a slab foundation, the ground level contains indoor parking, leased retail space, and back-of-house Star Market facilities. The main 35,000-square-foot shopping area is on the second floor, accessed by two sets of escalators, one for shoppers and one for shopping carts.

The project was not just about replacing something old with something new, it was also about energy savings. With $40.1 billion in annual sales, Supervalu is the fourth largest U.S. food seller, behind Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Costco. At present, Supervalu's combined retail and wholesale operations, including 2,500 food and drug stores, occupy 65 million square feet of space nationally. When in-house analysis of energy costs for Supervalu's Shaw's/Star Market division revealed that the annual operating cost was approaching $35 million, management decided something had to be done. (Massachusetts has one of the highest energy rates in the U.S.: 15 cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial use.)

So in 2008, Supervalu announced that it would build a prototype store at the Chestnut Hill location to include state-of-the-art systems that would slash yearly operating costs by between 50 and 65 percent. To achieve this target, the store would need to integrate cutting-edge sustainable technology without compromising its a friendly neighborhood image. Lighting was a critical factor. From exterior to interior, all of the spaces occupied by the food retailer are lit by LED fixtures.

But going an all-LED route was not a given. “Supervalu's corporate executives wanted to know what kind of technology would meet the goal,” recalls Keith Tarver, manager of innovation and technology, based in the company's Boise, Idaho, offices. (At the time of the project, Tarver held the title of senior manager of electrical systems.) “We told them that an all-LED store would be a major factor in meeting their objective. But at that time, there weren't LED products on the market that could do the job, to provide the quantity and quality of light needed for a top-tier store.”

When the challenge of the Star Market store design arose, and there was talk of using only LED lighting, Tarver and his colleagues knew that whatever successful solution worked for Chestnut Hill would likely find its way across the entire Supervalu enterprise, and would be studied by other retailers for their operations. Tarver had logged six years of planning and installing LEDs throughout Supervalu stores, starting with freezer, produce, and dairy cases, and a prototype LED dimming system. He applied his experience to the development of the budget for Chestnut Hill, which along with estimates from key suppliers, gave the team the freedom to manage the project's finances. The project team's goal was to turn a breakthrough research and development application—LED luminaires—into an enjoyable customer experience, while still being profitable to Supervalu through high-volume sales and reduced operating costs.

Tarver and the in-house Supervalu design and engineering team were given creative and technological latitude to develop the solutions in a fast-track time frame. Because of fast-changing LED lighting technology, they knew that they would benefit from collaborating with lighting suppliers with LED expertise. As a result, Supervalu enlisted lighting manufacturers Osram Sylvania and Lithonia Lighting to assist in developing luminaires that would meet the project criteria.

An initial kick-off meeting, hosted by Osram Sylvania at their Danvers, Mass., headquarters, brought together Tarver; Kenneth Mahtesian, senior project manager for Shaw's/Star Market; Dwight Kitchen, vice president of OEM sales for Osram Sylvania; and product development managers for Lithonia Lighting. Critical to the project's success was the creation of an overhead LED fixture that would cost-effectively deliver quality ambient illumination—horizontally and vertically—from the ceiling to the floor in the 18-foot-high retail space. “We all agreed to undertake the overall lighting project with a ‘let's-go-for-it' approach,” Mahtesian explains, “even though there was no precedent for an all-LED store of this size.”

With support from the manufacturers—Lithonia focused on the luminaire and Osram Sylvania concentrated on the LEDs and driver—Holly Angell, Supervalu's director of technology, energy, and environmental, reviewed the proposals and gave her approval to move forward. Responsibility for oversight of the final lighting design fell to her department. To meet the opening-day deadline, the building was under construction at the same time that the LED lighting underwent final testing. “It was a compressed timetable,” Mahtesian says, who worked closely with Yarosh Associates, the building's architect of record.