WSL Future of Health Event

Grocery shopping reenergized

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Many of the exciting new supermarkets appearing throughout the country these days are not coming from the usual sources. Rather, they’re products of retailers not normally associated with new, different, exciting or groundbreaking.

MMR OpinionExamples abound. Kroger’s newest supermarkets — like the recently opened stores in Cincinnati — are large superstores with a complete assortment of what were once known as nonfoods but are today an integral part of the traditional grocery assortment. Typical of Kroger, these stores are not flashy. Rather, they’re attractive in the most appealing way: They’re easy for the customer to shop.

But perhaps the most surprising new development in grocery retailing was recently unveiled in Newark, N.J., not, at first glance, the ideal location for a new venture in supermarket retailing. The store, opened late last year, bears the ShopRite banner, ShopRite being the New Jersey-based cooperative owned by its retail members.

The Newark ShopRite, a 75,000-square-foot emporium that is as complete and exciting as any U.S. supermarket, is owned by a grocery entrepreneur who owns one other ShopRite grocery store, several miles and many cultural and ethnic worlds away from Newark.

But it’s the Newark store that has the community buzzing. Easily the most impressive grocery store serving a citizenry with precious few other grocery options, the store, opened less than a year, has become a community focal point. Its operating hours, most days, are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the unit is always crowded.

In addition to the standard mix of grocery merchandise, the ShopRite is stocked with a full range of health and beauty aids, an on-premises pharmacy, and a variety of takeout food offerings that reflect local preferences far more completely and effectively than competing fast-food options in the neighborhood.

Rounding out the assortment is an array of general merchandise that is probably the largest, and among the most appealing, in New Jersey. Here again, the emphasis is on the community, and the store offers a selection that mirrors, and often anticipates, the needs of the community.

And in truth, “community” is the key word here. The ShopRite is billed as the store of the community, and it certainly lives up to that billing. To understand what that means, it’s important to understand that the store is located in the heart of the African-American neighborhood in Newark. That doesn’t mean that 70% or 80% of its shoppers are black. It means that virtually all of its shoppers are black. Those few faces belonging to other ethnic groups that can occasionally be seen belong to staffers or employees from ShopRite’s home office not far away. The store itself has been built to do business with the local community — and, in Newark, that means the black community.

How’s the store doing? For openers, its sales are exceeding the optimistic projections laid down at its opening. But sales are the least impressive element. Come in anytime — morning, noon, nighttime. The shelves are immaculate — filled, neat, overflowing with merchandise. And the rest of the store mirrors the gondolas — clean, well serviced, well lit, organized to make shopping easy and augmented by a well-trained staff that is at once eager, knowledgeable and working toward one goal: serving the customer.

As for the customers, they have clearly found a home. Indeed, they have come for one reason — to shop. That chore, at this store, is accomplished quickly and easily. The only interaction is between customers who know each other, or customers and staffers who have come to know each other. All the rest is as it always is at an inviting, well-run retail store. The object is to shop.

So it is on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark, at the brand new ShopRite superstore. So it is in other places as well, in those places where the owner, the operator, the retailer, is willing to make the first move. So, hopefully, will it be in more places going forward — if people are willing to take a chance.


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