Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Independent Grocer Memo: Despite Two Tesco Fresh & Easy Stores and A New Wal-Mart Marketside Store, Gilbert, AZ USA Grocer is Ready to Rock Downtown

The Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Gilbert has recently been ground zero for new retail food and grocry store openings.

On October 4, mega-retailer Wal-Mart, Inc. opened one of its first four new small-format (15,000 -to- 20,000 square foot) Marketside combination grocery and fresh foods stores in Gilbert, along with opening three more on the same day in the cities of Mesa, Chandler and Tempe.

British grocery chain Tesco also recently opened its second small-format (10,000 -to- 13,000 square foot) Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market convenience-oriented grocery and fresh foods market in the city.

Both Wal-Mart's Marketside and Tesco's Fresh & Easy formats offer an extensive selection of fresh, prepared foods. The Marketside stores have in-store kitchens and the Fresh & Easy stores receive their prepared foods from the company's huge central kitchen in Southern California.

All this new store opening activity in by the world's number one retailer -- Wal-Mart -- and the world's third largest chain -- Tesco -- hasn't scared off Gilbert's historic Liberty Market, an independent grocery store that's been open in the city since the U.S. Great Depression, though.

Liberty Market owner Owner Joe Johnston and his partners have just completed a major remodeling of the supermarket located in Downtown Gilbert's historic Heritage District, transforming the grocery store into what Johnston calls an "urban marketplace."

The inside of the historic market features a mix of the old and new. There are modern-style clear exposed bulbs hanging from ceiling beams built in the 1930s. On the same concrete floor originally poured in 1958 sit modernist tables with smooth black surfaces.

The remodeled market features an in-store demonstration kitchen where shoppers can see what the chefs are doing through two large glass windows. Among the modern equipment in the in-store kitchen is a Vulcan Oven in which artisan pizza's are baked for sale in the store.

A major part of Liberty Market's new urban flair includes lots of prepared foods from the kitchen. There are full ready-to-heat dinner entrees and side-dishes as well as ready-to-eat grab-and-go foods prepared right in the store.

The market also features an in-store espresso bar/cafe which owner Johnson says he wants to become a downtown Gilbert social hub as well as a place where the city's many commuters will stop off on there way to work.

Professional chef David Traina is Johnson's partner in Liberty Market. He will be running the in-store kitchen, creating what he says will be a combination of basic comfort foods along with more adventurous offerings such as sweet potato salad and authentic Sicilian pizza's, among other offerings. There are fresh baked goods as well.

The market also has a retail section offering shelf-stable, fresh and perishable food and grocery items with an emphasis on specialty products.

Johnson owns three successful restaurants in Gilbert. Therefore focusing on in-store prepared foods along with retail food and grocery items in the revamped Liberty Market is a natural for both him and chef Traina.

The historic market has had four owners since it opened in the 1930's. Johnson is the fourth and says he wants to be the last.

Although he has done extensive remodeling to Liberty Market, owner Johnson says it still retains its historic core. He's referring to the historic elements such as the concrete floor poured in 1958, the 1930's wood ceiling beams and other historic elements which have been retained in the store's remodeling.

The fresh food and grocery market is part of the revitalization of downtown Gilbert and its historic district.

Johnson and Traina say they fear not the big chain outlets that have recently opened in Gilbert. They believe their upscale yet historically-grounded Liberty market and its downtown location offer residents and shoppers not only food and grocery items but restaurant-quality prepared foods items supported by Johnson's reputation as a successful restaurant operator in the city.

Additionally, It's also the only market in the downtown which has been adding various new amenities like Water Tower Park, which is slated to open next month, and the Western Canal Trail which is being completed and is scheduled for an early 2009 opening, according to Johnson.

These new public features, along with a number of new retail shops that have opened in downtown Gilbert in the last couple years, are expected to draw local residents as well as residents from outside the city to the downtown core.

Johnson and Traina say they are prepared for those new customers when they come, along with serving the residents of the entire city of Gilbert.

We like that independent spirit.

No comments: