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Region getting first 24-houir robotic store

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The face of the Shop 24 store will have glass-like material so shoppers can see what they're buying.
The face of the Shop 24 store will have glass-like material so shoppers can see what they're buying.

A Hatfield apartment complex will soon offer a pair of unusual amenities to lure more businesses to the site and keep tenants living there longer – an outdoor fitness park and the first 24-hour robotic store on the East Coast.

"Hatfield Village is in the process of being re-branded," said Christy Metz, director of sales and marketing for the Scully Company, a Jenkintown firm that serves as the landlord company for Hatfield Village.

"After all these years, we felt we needed to make that more of a destination apartment." With close to 1,000 apartment units, Hatfield Village covers 70 acres and already has a car washing station, indoor gym and walking path to a dog park.

Soon, people will be able to exercise and shop on-site throughout the year, at any time of the day or night.

"We're very proud of what we've accomplished over the last 50 years, but over time, our residents' needs have changed. They have little time to drive to another location for shopping, exercise or recreation," said Jessica Scully, president of Scully Company.

"Our vision for Hatfield Village needed to include the creation of convenience for our residents while also making it easy to enjoy the best parts of apartment living in a community.

"The new outdoor fitness park and 24-hour automated convenience store, located in what will be called the Village Center area of the community, will do both."

The community is expected to celebrate the grand opening of the fitness park and robotic store this fall.

The robotic store will be a Shop 24 – a brand that is popular in Europe and first seen in the states on college campuses. The 40-square-foot kiosk-style unit will be over nine feet tall, 14 feet wide, and offer up to 200 convenience store items that weigh anywhere from one ounce to eight pounds.

The store and the fitness park are geared for residents of Hatfield Village, but since the apartment complex is not a gated community both amenities can be used by the general public.

Each Shop 24 machine weighs several tons and has eight live cameras recording all the time, said Ken Kaplan, director of development for Shop 24 of Pennsylvania. The front of the structure will be a glass-like material so shoppers can see items inside the store.

It operates similar to an oversized vending machine. Shoppers choose up to eight items at a time, key in their selections on a pad and then watch as robotic devices grab the items and deliver them after the customer pays for the transaction.

"The trend toward automated retail is going to be relentless and it's coming," said Kaplan. "We are focusing on what we call hyper-convenience."

Shoppers can order everything from staples like milk, bread and eggs to paper products, snacks and laundry detergent, said Kaplan. The store takes all forms of payment – cash, credit or debit cards – and has the ability to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) stamps.

The Shop 24 units are 20-year assets that are "major capital investments" that cost about $250,000 each, said Kaplan.

These machines have been in use for quite some time in Europe and now are being manufactured in America.

Kaplan is opening a second store in Philadelphia, but Hatfield Village will be the first site for a robotic convenience store in a residential community.

"It will make people choose to live in that community and stay there longer," said Kaplan. "You also have a generation that's used to interacting with machines; they are used to convenience."

The pad is in place and the Shop 24 should be built over the next few weeks, with a planned completion and opening date in October.

The pad and area for the fitness park is established as well, said Metz.

MotionUSA, an outdoor fitness consulting company from Nebraska, is partnering with Danish company Norwell, which designed the equipment, said Metz.

"The equipment is designed to be simple and functional, and always has a curved piece of metal," said Metz.

The fitness park will have several different stations for stretching, strength-building, cardiovascular and balance. According to Loren Block, president of MotionUSA, the park is designed to introduce fitness concepts to a different type of user and would complement the community's indoor gym.

"This is the first installation on the East Coast," said Block. "I do see it as a developing trend. It's a new concept in apartment complexes, resorts, active adult communities, more of the private sector."

The 870-square-foot area will include a chest press, air walker, leg press and elliptical station. Each exercise station has sealed ball bearings, minimal moving parts and uses body weight for resistance. The powder coated steel is designed for all types of outdoor weather, he added.

Overall, it cost about $20,000 for all four stations, including shipping, said Block.

Both companies are looking forward to adding their amenities to an upscale environment this fall.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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