Saturday, September 22, 2007

Retail Whispers

Heard on the Street
Tesco Fresh & Easy Store Watch:

Los Angeles: Our friends at the "Curbed LA" Blog received an email and pictures over the weekend from a reader in Los Angeles who spotted the Fresh & Easy sign lights on (see picture at left) at the near-completed new store in the Glassel Park area of Los Angeles. The LA resident who took the picture at left also said it looks like the store in very near completion as workers were doing what looked like touch-up and clean-up work around the store as well as testing the sign lighting. Could this be the first Fresh & Easy store to open? Tesco has said it's possible the first store could open in October even though November is their target month. October is only nine says away and the lights are working at the Glassel park store. Could it be the first Fresh & Easy to open its doors to shoppers? We'll keep you posted.

Brooklyn, New York: Specialty grocer Trader Joe's is hoping to be able to convert the ornate former Independence Savings Bank building( pictured below left) on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn into a new TJ's store. There's been no official announcement as of yet from the grocer or anybody else involved but Retail Whispers' commercial real estate sources tell us TJ's is in the process of buying the currently vacant bank building (pictured at left).

The site is located close to three affluent Brooklyn neighborhoods--Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Boerum--which makes the location prime for Trader Joe's merchandising style and product mix. It might not be an easy deal for the specialty grocer though as there are a few issues surrounding the site such as potential historic preservation problems, parking issues and a couple others. However many neighborhood residents desire a specialty store in the area as do a number of city officials and planners. The old back should make an interesting venue for the specialty foods emporium. We doubt if TJ's will need to use the bank's vault for its popular $1.99 "Two Buck Chuck" wines however. Perhaps for the the truffles and rare caviar though.

Albany, New York: While Trader Joe's might have some potential problems in locating a store in the Brooklyn bank site, it should be clear sailing for the grocer, if it wants to build a store in upstate Albany. A number of Albany residents have started a letter writing campaign urging California-based TJ's to locate a store in their town or at least nearby, reports the Long Island, NY-based LI Business Blog. Retail Whispers checked it out and it's true. The specialty grocer currently has six stores in Long Island, two in New York City (with another on the way, see above) and three in Westchester County. ( A new Tj's is being built in Queens currently.) However there aren't any TJ's at all located in upstate New York. Perhaps one will soon be in the planning stages if the residents' letter writing campaign is successful? We'll keep you posted.

Washington, D.C.: Yes! Organic Market is set to become the first retail store at "The Flats at Union Row," a new eight-story, 208 unit condominium building located at the corner of 14th and V Streets NW in the capital city. Developer PN Hoffman says the deal is done and the store is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008. The store's owners signed a lease with the developer this week. The urban organic market will be 6,000 square-feet and housed in the ground floor of the condo building. In addition to organic groceries, produce and other perishables the store will feature prepared foods and a sushi bar. The ground floor has a total of 26,000 square-feet for retail. The 6,000 square-foot organic grocery will be the retail anchor.

Yes! Organic Market currently has four stores, all located in D.C. The company is owned by brother and sister Gary Cha and Kathy Rachels. The retailer also has another new store in the planning stages for 2009. That store is to be located at 4100 Georgia Avenue NW in D.C. The two new stores will give the independent organic grocer six stores in the capital city. The word on the street is they want to build more as well. Learn more about Yes! Organic Market here.

New York City: Last week Retail Whispers reported that NYC-based Amish Markets, an upscale specialty foods retailer, was slated to become the first grocer at the huge Long Island City development in Queens. Yesterday The New York Sun newspaper reported the grocer also is set for a major expansion. According to the Sun, and Amish Market owners David Selek and Sean Eren, the upscale grocer is planning to open 13 new stores in the Metro New York region over the next 3-4 years. The addition of the 13 new stores would give the high-end grocer a total of 30 units in the next 3-4 years. You can read more about the company here in the The New York Sun (9-21-2007) article.

San Francisco, California: Last week we reported Whole Foods Market, Inc. is scouting San Francisco's Haight Ashbury (Hippies, Summer of Love) neighborhood for a site to build a new store. This week we learned from the grocer's Northern California Region president this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of desired new stores in the Bay Area. Regional president Anthony Gilmore says Whole Foods is looking to build new stores in the Bay Area cities of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Layfayette, Dublin and Fremont. Fremont is in the Southeastern part of the Bay Area and the other five cities are in the East Bay. Except for Berkeley, where Whole Foods has had a store for years, the other five cities would be new markets for the supernatural grocer. Additionally, Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany are all cities within a few minutes drive of each other. Four stores in such close proximity (one existing in Berkeley and three new stores) would give Whole Foods lots of critical mass in that dense urban region of the Bay Area.

As we reported here in Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) Whole Foods is set to open its new store in Oakland next week on September 26. The grocer also opened a new store in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood last week, and the week before it opened a new store in the Silicon Valley city of Campbell, in the South Bay Area not too far from San Jose. With the recent new store openings--and desired or planned new locations--the supernatural grocer's Bay Area growth pace is starting to remind us of that television commercial for Diamond brand Almonds where the voice over guy says: "A Can a week, That's All We Ask" (consumers to buy). To paraphrase that ad in terms of Whole Foods' Bay Area new store plans one might comment: "A New Store a Week, That's all Whole Foods' Asks." We'll keep you posted.

Oakland, California: Trader Joe's also is coming to Oakland. The specialty grocer has been building a new store in the city's Lakeshore neighborhood, which is going through an urban revitalization process. The office of Oakland City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who's district the Lakeshore area is in, tells Retail Whispers the TJ's will have a "soft" grand opening on October 6, along with some of the other new and remodeled retail stores in the up and coming shopping district.

Orange County, California: Gourmet grocer Dean & Delucca (D&D) is planning to open its first Southern California store at the trendy Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach. (For those of you with teenagers who watch the MTV show "Newport Beach" that's the center where the show's teens are frequently filmed shopping and eating.) The new upscale D&D store will be 23,000 square-feet (pretty large for the gourmet retailer). According to our Orange County (OC) sources plans call for the store to be a gastronomical mecca. Store features are said to include an upscale in-store restaurant with a prepared-foods-to-go market attached, a combination upscale bakery and cafe/coffee house, a large fresh produce department, full-service fresh meat and seafood departments (with lots of specialty meats), a cheese shop featuring hard to find imported and domestic artisan cheeses, and a wine shop which will focus on small production wines from all over the world. The store also will carry an extensive selection of gourmet, ethnic and natural groceries and perishable goods from around the globe, in addition to upscale cookware and kitchenware.

The store is slated to open in fall 2009. New York City-based gourmet retailer Dean & Delucca (D&D) currently has 15 retail stores and cafes in the U.S. It's only current store on the West Coast is in Napa in northern California's wine country. The upscale retailer also has nine stores located in Japan and on the island of Taiwan. Leslie Rudd, D&D's chairman, says the retailer is looking to grow considerable both in the U.S. and internationally.

The addition of the new D&D to the OC is going to create some interesting upscale retailing competition. There's an upscale Bristol Farms supermarket just a mile away from the D&D new store site. Southern California-based Bristol Farms (now owned by Supervalu, Inc.) is Southern California's favorite hometown Gourmet grocer. Whole Foods just opened a large, upscale lifestyle-oriented store nearby as well. And Tesco is opening six of its upscale Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores in Orange Country, the first of which are slated to open in November. Two of the stores are fairly close to the new D&D store site. Based on what we're hearing the new Dean & Delucca store will be the most "gourmet" of the bunch, both in product selection and pricing.

More OC Whispers: Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market, a natural and organic products grocer, also is headed to Orange County. The natural grocer plans to build a new store in the OC city of Seal Beach at a new addition called "The Shops" at the Rossmor shopping center on Seal Beach Blvd. The store will be Sprouts' second in Orange County. (The first Sprout's store in the OC is currently being built in Irvine and is set to open in November of this year.) The natural grocer currently has 23 stores in Arizona (15), California (4) and Texas (4). Sprout's new Seal Beach store is slated to open in summer 2008, according to out commercial real estate sources in the OC.

Los Angeles: Large U.S. cities have been working hard to lure supermarkets to their downtown's as part of an overall program to revitalize the city core and make it what it once was: The center and hub of a city's activity. Nowhere has this effort been more focused on over the past decade than in downtown Los Angeles. Ever since the Watts Riots in the 1960's downtown Los Angeles has been viewed as a place to avoid rather than spend time in. However, that's been changing considerably over the past ten years as the city and country of Los Angeles and private developers have poured billions of dollars into downtown LA, creating office and residential skyscrapers, a huge concert hall (the Disney), public works projects, restaurants, entertainment venues and other features all designed to attract not only employers and visitors but residents as well.

One of downtown LA's recent achievements was to attract locally-based Ralph's Supermarkets (owned by Kroger Co.) downtown, where the retailer has built and recently opened a new 50,000 square-foot supermarket in an increasingly upscale section called South Park. The new Ralph's store is located in the ground floor of a new residential building called "The Market Lofts." The new store, which currently serves about 2,000 shoppers a day, is exceeding all of the chain's expectations for the location. In fact, Ralph's believes the store is on its way to becoming one of the chain's top grossing stores, joining the small group of retail units they have which gross $1 million per-week. The new urban store already is doing $100,000 more per-week in sales over pre-opening projections. Sunday's (9-23-07) Los Angeles Downtown News has an article describing the new Ralph's store in downtown Los Angeles and how it's part of an urban retail and residential revitalization in the city. You can read the story here.

Pasadena, California: Whole Foods Markets, Inc. is preparing to open its flagship Southern California store in Pasadena. An official date hasn't been set yet by the supernatural grocer but we're hearing it will be around November 6-9, 2007, just a little more than a month away. The new Pasadena store is almost 77,000 square-feet and is built on two-levels. This will be Whole Foods' largest store to date in the Western U.S. and one of its top five largest in the U.S. More to come on this new store soon.

Gilbert, Arizona: UK retailer Tesco plans on building three of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets in the fast-growing Phoenix suburb of Gilbert. According to our Phoenix commercial real estate sources, and confirmed by Tesco, the stores are to be located at Lindsey and Warner roads, Greenfield and Warner roads and Higley and Ray roads. The new stores are slated to be in the 10,000 square-foot range, Tesco's average for the convenience-type upscale markets. Tesco currently has a couple Fresh & Easy stores almost completed in the Phoenix region and is shooting for a November opening for those stores. Gilbert is a fast-growing suburb and the fact Tesco will build three stores in the community shows the retailer is serious about building critical mass by locating multiple stores in communities the states of Arizona, California and Nevada in a relatively short time span.

North Fulton County, Georgia: The growing Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta and the surrounding communities of Johns Creek, Milton and Rosewell are on the retail radar of numerous upscale food retailers as a key place to have a store in Georgia. Trader Joe's has a store in the city as does Whole Foods (next door in Johns Creek), Harry's Farmers Markets, Fresh Market, Kroger Publix and a couple others. Our friends at the "North Fulton Blog," which is published by local commercial real estate agent Kevin Warmath, tell us Whole Foods is planning to build a second, much larger and more upscale, store in Alpharetta. According to Warmath the Whole Foods store will anchor a new retail development called Prospect Park. The new development is located at Old Milton Parkway and GA-400. Warmath also says he's hearing the store will be one of Whole Foods' largest to date and, according to the developers he talked with, could contain as many as four to six in-store restaurants. The four-city area of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton and Rosewell are close enough together to have spill-over retail shopping by residents.

North Fulton County also is changing demographically as well as growing rapidly. New Jersey-based Asian Supermarket chain Super H Mart just opened a supermarket in Johns Creek to serve the growing Asian population in North Fulton Country. The store also appeals to the growing international food tastes of non-asians in the area. Super H stores feature large fresh foods departments, along with a full selection of basic groceries, in addition to Asian products. Super H Mart is a Korean-owned chain but also sells Asian foods from throughout the region, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other Asian cuisines. The stores also sell lots of non-foods including small kitchen appliances, electronics and even laptop computers.

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Publix will open its first Greenwise natural and organic foods dedicated format store in Palm Beach Gardens on Thursday, September 27. As we reported a few weeks ago the Greenwise stores are a new concept for Publix. The retailer has had "Greenwise" natural and organic foods sections in its stores for a number of years and borrowed the name for the new store format from these sections. The retailer has plans to convert regular Publix format stores in Florida ( Boca Raton, Tampa, Coral Springs and Vero Beach) to the upscale natural and organic format this year. Publix also plans on building some new Greenwise stores. The natural and organic format stores offer lots of prepared foods, natural, organic, specialty and gourmet products as well as some conventional groceries.

The upscale, prepared foods offerings are a big emphasis of the store. Publix says overall there are four separate restaurant or in-store prepared foods concepts included in the store, including a 135-seat mezzanine cafe/coffee shop which offers free online wi-fi service for cafe patrons. The prepared foods area also features a walk-up window and curbside delivery service. The store is 39,000 square feet and is located in the Legacy Gardens shopping center in Palm Beach Gardens.

The store's other upscale features include: A selection of more than 300 international cheeses and a cheese aging cave where customers can have their cheese selections aged up to 25 days to their personal preference, a full service bakery offering over 350 items including 20 bread varieties, an in-store cooking demonstration area and free in-store event planning and consulting service.

Naples, Florida: Like North Fulton County in Georgia, the Naples, Florida region is another rapidly growing community in the south. The Gulf Coast region also is heating up in terms of upscale food retailing. A new upscale Sweetbay Supermarket is being built at the Magnolia Square shopping center in Naples and should be open later this year, according to Alice Miller of Keating Real Estate in Naples. Sweetbay is a three-year old upscale format of Kash n' Karry, the Florida-based supermarket company owned by Brussels Belgium-based Delhaize Group.

The Sweetbay stores offer a combination of conventional groceries, lots of fresh foods, and specialty and natural foods offerings. The stores are designed using bright colors and graphics meant to convey an upscale, fresh image, yet one in which prices are competitive with mainstream supermarkets. Realtor Miller says there is a popular The Fresh Market upscale store nearby in addition to a Publix store and an upscale independent named Wynn's Market.

Woodland Park, Colorado: Mega-retailer Wal-Mart has built a new Supercenter store in Woodland Park near Colarado Springs that looks like no other Supercenter the chain has every built before. That;s because Woodland Park, a city nestled between the Rocky Mountains, has strict architectural design standards for commercial and residential development so as to protect its natural setting and environment. Wal-Mart agreed with these standards and worked with the city and an architect to create a store that fits into the local landscape without compromising Wal-Mart's format and merchandising goals. The store, which opened last week, is done in brown and green earth tones on the outside and has natural stone and wood timbers used on the front. There's even a life-size brass statue of a mule deer buck out front to greet shoppers as they enter the store. The brass deer isn't a substitute for Wal-Mart's in-store human greeters though; they are inside the store. You can read more about the "local" supercenter here in this article from the Colorado Springs Gazette.
International Food Retailing

United Kingdom: The food retailing sector in the United Kingdom (UK) has been under constant government scrutiny and investigation for the past year over the issue of anti-competitiveness. The government claims the nation's major supermarket chains have been pressuring and strong-arming their suppliers for better deals (the suppliers say unreasonable ones) and other give-backs and perks.

In many cases, the government claims, the largest chains like Tesco have set the wholesale prices themselves, telling the suppliers if they don't accept what the retailers want to pay the chains will stop doing business with them. As a result of this supplier behavior the government claims these big chains are then pricing the goods in their stores at retail price points that independents can't come close to matching. In other words this is the crux of the government's anti-competitive argument. Tesco, the UK's largest chain (and the third-largest food retailer in the world) has been getting the brunt of the Uk anti-competitive government commission's attention.

In this interview in the Sunday Times of London (09-16-07), Tesco Chairman and CEO Sir Terry Leahy, talks about the anti-competitive investigation for the first time in detail. You can read the full interview here. Sir Terry argues the investigation is misguided, and in the interview talks about the changes happening in international food retailing and in the UK, and defends the industry and its practices. Tesco is preparing to enter the U.S. with the first of a least 100 planned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets. The stores are upscale convenience-style markets of about 10,000 square-feet. The stores will feature fresh prepared foods, specialty and natural foods and other upscale and fresh offerings. The stores are modeled on Tesco's "Express Market" format which the retailer has introduced throughout the developed world. Additionally, This article from describes the Bristish government's current probe into price-fixing in the dairy products sector, which is one area the regulators are focusing on.

Dot.Com Food Retailing

Seattle, Washington: Online Mega-retailer has began an online-ordering, home- delivery service test in three Seattle, Washington-area communities. Amazon already carries a large selection of basic, specialty, natural and organic gorceries and perishables which can be ordered and shipped to shoppers' homes just like the other products the E-retailer merchandises.

The new delivery service features basic groceries, produce, meats and seafoods as well as specialty and natural foods items. It's similar to other online delivery services such as those operated by Safeway Stores and Albertson's in the West and FreshDirect and others in the east and other parts of the U.S. During the test Amazon is delivering the grocery orders to online shoppers homes for free. The company has bought colorful delivery trucks which include refrigerated, frozen and dry grocery compartments in the trailor sections. Delivery drivers wear kaki pants and special Amazon Fresh (the name of the service) polo shirts. There is currently no word on how long the test is or when the online retailer will expand to other Washington state cities. Amazon is based near Seattle.

Safeway Stores has been operating an online delivery service in Washington State and Oregon for a number of years and has gotten pretty good at it. Even though Amazon is well known in the region and used fequently by shoppers for online purchases the E-retailer will be up against some serious competition in its backyard from Safeway. The chain knows supermarket retailing, has the buying power, and a solid track record based on numerous years of online grocery selling and delivery. These are all vital things Amazon will need to learn "on the job."

Maryville, Tennessee: Two employers of packaged goods giant Kimberly Clark have created an online startup company called The online grocery delivery service is a modern version of yesterday's milkman, who used to deliver milk, dairy products and other goods to the front doorstep every morning. In the case of, started by Maryville residents Josh Burgess and Jeff Rule, their service is more like an online convenience store with household delivery.

So far the pair has about 1,800 items available for online order and home delivery. The items range from fresh milk and dairy products to juices, fresh breads, grocery items, pet foods, cleaning supplies and numerous other products in a variety of different categories. They're adding more items to their site daily the "modern milkmen" said. The service currently is charging about $10.00 per home delivery. All deliveries are made at night and shoppers have to be home to get the goods--no leaving it in a box in front of the house when nobody is home like yesterday's milkman did. The pair sets delivery days based on the various zip codes in their service areas. Currently the service area covers Eastern Tennessee but if all goes well the pair plans to expand within the entire state.

The new e-milkmen are focusing on time-pressed consumers in the region, younger people as well as older ones. "We like the image of a milkman coming to the door (delivery people dress like the milkman of the past) and we're going to try and emulate that wholesome image of someone you trust," says the pair in describing their mission for the new company. You can read more about the modern internet milkmen and their company here.

Food Retailing Operations

New York City: The Whole Foods store at Columbus Circle in Manhattan has come up with a new (to the United States) method of keeping its customers in line. The grocer has trained and employed "line directors" whose job it is (politely) to keep the lines of customers at the stores checkout stands moving in a nice and orderly fashion. The line directors are charged by Whole Foods' store managers to try to make sure busy shoppers at the store are able to get in and out of line at the checkout in five minutes. Unlike nearly all other retail food stores (and other formats) in the U.S., which use a single line behind each checkstand methodology, the Columbus Circle Whole Foods employs the method used throughout Europe, where shoppers form a single line and then go (in this case guided by the line directors) to the first avaliable checkstand for checkout.

The store has 41 checkstands. Each has a light visible to the "line directors," and when the checkstand is available the light flashes. The "line directors" watch for the flashing lights and guide the next person waiting on line whenever one flashes signaling an open checkstand. It's a "high touch" service in a "high tech" setting. The process is always evolving with the line directors finding better ways to help shoppers get in and out fast and gently. Customers seem to like it as well, as the store has become not only the favorite place for grocery shopping in the area, but draws customers from miles away. It's also become a place to hang out, have lunch and meet in Manhattan.

Mergers & Acquisitions

Montvale, New Jersey: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) and Pathmark stores have agreed to notify the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at least two weeks prior to the close of A&P's proposed $679 million acquisition of Pathmark. A&P said it will notify the FTC by October 6 as it hopes to have the acquisition completed about two weeks after that date.

The deal will create a 550-store supermarket chain operating in the Eastern U.S. in New York, New Jersey and Pennsyvania, down to Washington, D.C. and Maryland in the Mid-Atlantic, and in Michigan and Louisiana. A&P was once the number one food retailing company in the U.S. as well as in the Western world (hence its full title which remains today). Many decades ago A&P's then president paraphrased the United Kingdom's famous empire-days saying when he said about A&P's international retailing empire, "The Sun Never Sets Over the A&P." Today the chain is a mere shell of its size in those days due to lots of sell-offs over the years as well as some hard times. However, A&P has started to turn around in recent years (despite some bumps in the road), and the Pathmark acquisition shows the once retail empire-builder is far from being in retreat.

Stuart, Florida: Milam's Markets, an upscale, muti-store independent grocer based in Miami, Florida, is buying the Stuart, Florida store of another Florida-based upscale independent, Stuart Fine Foods. Retail Whispers has decided to identify this as a new trend called "upscale food retailing tit for tat acquisitions." (remember you read it here first.) Miami-based Milam's Markets (an independent IGA banner retailer) operates five stores in Miami-Dade County.

Stuart's Fine Foods is a long-time local upscale grocer in the community. Both Stuart's Fine Foods and Milam's Markets are family-owned and managed. Joe Mazetti Sr. and his son Joe Mazetti Jr. are the current owners of Stuart's Fine Foods. They also own and operate another upscale store in nearby Palm City, Florida. Plans call for them to continue running that store although they have had some financial probelms which led to the decision to sell the Stuart store.

Milam's is know for its large selection of specialty, natural and organic foods as well as extensive wine selection, prepared foods offerings and other specialty features. Stuart's Fine Foods has a similar merchandise mix and upscale positioning so the store's customers won't miss a beat in terms of the reasons they shop the store. Like the Mazetti's, Milam's stores take a very "high touch" approach to customer service, including bringing in nearly any specialty foods item a customer might request. In reviews of Milam's, superior customer service and community support, are always mentioned by local consumers as major reasons they shop at the grocer's stores.

Austin, Texas: The Whole Foods' deal to sell Wild Oats' Henry's Farmers Markets and Sun Harvest stores to a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Smart & Final, Inc. (S&F) is expected to be completed by the end of this month or in early October. S&F is owned primarily by private equity firm Apollo Management. The Henry's stores are located in the Western U.S. and the Sun Harvest stores are in Texas. The stores are a natural foods/specialty foods hybrid format and don't have the (all natural) product attribute restrictions the Wild Oats banner stores do. Whole Foods didn't feel the two formats/banners fit their merchandising style so decided to sell them to Smart & Final. Whole Foods currently is operating the stores pending the sales finalization in a week or two.

Smart & Final's store's are a "club store type" operation. They cater to medium-size and small food service operators as well as the general public. It will be interesting to see what the retailer does with the Henry's and Sun Harvest stores since they are much different in format that the S&F stores. Perhaps that's why S&F created a new subsidiary to operate them.

Consumer Retail Insights

Norfork, Virginia: Supermarket retailer Farm Fresh opened a new, upscale supermarket in Norfork, Virginia on Friday (09-21-07). The store even has a name, "The Market at Harbour Heights." The store is located in downtown Norfork, which has become a popular place not only to dine and shop but to live as well. A resident of Norfork visited the store for it "soft" grand opening last night. You can read that customers review of the new store plus the reviews and comments of a few other consumers--and potential customers of the store--here. Retail Whispers thinks getting direct insight from shoppers is great market research for retailers, even if the reviews and comments aren't about your own stores. With today's internet technology it's easy to do--and interesting to read.

American Canyon, California: For three years Wal-Mart fought to build a large, combined food and general merchandise Supercenter store in American Canyon, which is located next door to Napa in the Northern California wine country. There was much opposition to the Supercenter from community residents, activists, small business people and some elected officials. After much debate and rangling, Wal-Mart finally obtained approval for the store, which just opened. The Napa Valley Register, the local community newspaper, posted a question in it's Saturday (09-22-07) paper asking residents their opinions on the new store and the overall issue of its location in the community now that it's open. You can read the numerous comments from community residents and shoppers here. It's an interesting and varied group of opinions.

Food Retailing Personalities

San Bernardino, California: For decades Stater Bros. Markets has been the "retail king" of Southern California's Inland Empire region. For most of those decades Stater Bros. has been a low-key, conventional supermarket retailer, that prided itself on being the locally-based grocery chain that provided shoppers with a strong overall product selection at reasonable prices. And as the local-guy it's been the grocery chain most involved in community and civic affairs in the Inland Empire, using community support to show why shopping with a locally-owned and operated grocer pays dividends to shoppers beyond just the price of groceries.

For most of this time Jack Brown, Stater Bros. CEO, has been at the helm, growing the chain from its humble beginnings to 163 stores, almost 18,000 employees and $3.5 billion in gross sales today. Stater Bros. under brown also has become "less conventional" in the last few years as the Inland Empire region has seen competition from upscale grocers. Today the retailer's new stores are much more upscale than they have traditionally been and merchandise a much larger selection of specialty, natural and organic products across all store categories than ever before.

In California grocery industry circles Brown is known as a down to earth, savvy retailer who also is somewhat of a character, with a true "rags-to-riches" story. Brown's mother had TB when he was young and his father died when he was eight. At age 13 Brown started working in a grocery store. From there he went to college on a scholarship and then joined the U.S. Navy. In 1960 while on the South Pacific Island of Formosa on leave, Brown purchased Burt, an Eagle carved from a driftwood root for $12, a pricely sum for a sailor on leave in 1960. Today that simple sculpture has a special place in Brown's office at Stater Bros. to remind him where he came from. In 1994 California State University San Bernadino named its new business school building Jack H. Brown Hall in honor of his multi-decade business career, community service to the region, and his efforts to help students and others in their persuits and careers.
In 1992 Brown was one of 10 Americans named that year to the Horatio Alger Society, an organization which honors successful people in the U.S. who have come up the hard way from disadvantaged backgrounds. Three of the other nine American's named along with Brown that year were Henry Kissinger, poet Maya Angelou and supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Brown, 67, doesn't seem eager to retire anytime soon. Nor can those who know him well and work with him imagine him doing so just yet. The late Don Beaver, the long-time president of the California Grocers Association, once said of Brown that he (Beaver) has never met a businessman more humble, modest and down to earth than Jack Brown. Yet at the same time never letting those traits get in the way of building and selling Stater Bros. Others call Brown a supermarket industry "Statesman."

Earlier this year when representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (the retail clerks union in California) sat down with management from Von's (Safeway-owned) Albertson's (Supervalu-owned) and Ralph's Supermarkets (Kroger -owned)--the "the big three" chains in Southern California--the union reps sighted Jack Brown as their model for negotiating with industry leaders and they suggested to the chain representatives they might want to follow Brown's lead since the union leaders has already worked out a contract agreement with him. Friends and collegues of Brown say this is just another example of how he creates consensus and helps others to achieve their dreams like he has been able to achieve his.

New York City: 75 years ago New York City-based and family-owned D' Agostino Supermarkets was founded by the Nicolas D' Agostino Sr. The first store, a small, modest grocery market in Manhattan's Upper East Side, has grown into an iconic 18-store upscale supermarket chain today. There are 15 stores in Manhattan and three in Westchester County. Shoppers simply call the stores D'Ags. The stores have appeared in many movies and television shows. For example, in the popular TV situation comedy "Will and Grace" the show's two main characters, Will and Grace, met in a D'Ags store in Manhattan. The stores' popular "D'Ag bags" are seen being used by shoppers all over Manhattan, not just in the grocer's stores.

D'Agostino's Supermarkets is managed by second and third generation family members, Nick D' Agostino Jr. and his son Nick D' Agostino III. The family-owned retailer was one of the first supermarket operators in the U.S. to go upscale and merchandise extensive selections of specialty, gourmet, ethnic and natural foods. It's also been a leader in prepared foods offerings and upscale store design with its newest stores. The family-owned grocer's newest store in Rye Brook, New York (that's Nick D'Agostino II pictured at left in the Rye Brook store) is D' Agostino's largest and most upscale, and will serve as the model for the retailers's future stores outside of Manhattan, according to Nick D' Agostino II.

D' Ags celebrates its 75th anniversary this fall. The retailer plans numerous in-store special events and promotions to celebrate its seven and one-half decades in Manhattan. You can read more about the D' Agostino family, their stores, and future retailing plans here in this (09-19-07) article from the (NY) Lower Hudson Journal News.

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