Navigating both the parking lot and the store aisles was a challenge for shoppers Wednesday at the opening of The Fresh Market in Latham.
“I think [there are] a lot more people than we expected,” said Damian Keefe, an employee in the produce section of the new store. “Products are selling faster than we’re putting them out, so it’s fantastic.”
The store in Latham, located at 664 New Loudon Road, is the first New York location for the 96-store chain. Its opening saw a crowd so large that cars were following people as they left the store just to find an empty parking spot and customers waited in checkout lines that wrapped through the store. Although many found the crowd to be frustrating, most said they expected it for opening day and they would return for the unique product selection, which can’t be found anywhere else in the area.
“It’s exciting it’s happening; you’d think we’d never seen food before,” Albany resident Michele O’Neal said at the store’s opening.
Ray and Beverly Berry began The Fresh Market in 1982 in Greensboro, N.C. The chain strives to operate like an old European-style market. The store is about one-third the size of a standard Price Chopper or Hannaford and has a full-service meat counter, seafood counter, deli and bakery.
It focuses mainly on selling product labels that aren’t commonly found elsewhere.
Brian Wittman, regional vice president for The Fresh Market, said the store distinguishes itself from other grocery stores through a unique offering of products and exceptional customer-employee relations.
“We want our meat manager to be known as the meat manager in the area and for people to come to him for suggestions. Same with our baker,” he said.
O’Neal said she wouldn’t buy everyday products at The Fresh Market but would go there for a higher quality of meat selections and other unique products.
“I’m not going to buy my toilet paper or my paper towels or my brand-name yogurt here, but I did notice in the meat counter there are some unique cuts and right now the prices are very competitive,” she said.
Terrie Hallenbec, of Glenmont, said she enjoyed the variety and selection of foods at the store but navigating the crowd was too difficult.
Some of the unique items she found included a mustard selection bigger than she’d ever seen and fried vegetable chips.
The classical music that is the staple of The Fresh Market brand played throughout the store. Displays decorated the store on a high ledge around all the walls, and employees stood at various locations passing out samples. Customers could sample a small cup of coffee during their wait in the long lines, and one employee walked around handing out gummies and other candy that was on sale.
“All of the staff we’ve encountered were friendly; all of the samples were great,” said Allison Maloney, a resident of Schenectady and employee of Union College. She said the proximity of the store to Union would make it convenient to shop there in the future, though she hopes the crowd won’t continue to be so large.
Both customers who had been to other Fresh Market stores and first-timer shoppers seemed to enjoy the atmosphere and level of customer service.
Marcia Aronowitz, a resident of Loudonville who had been to The Fresh Market in Naples, Fla., said one of her favorite parts of the store is the music.
Latham is the perfect place for the store because it’s in the middle of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, she said.
“I don’t think it will sustain this level [of business],” she said, “but everyone’s been waiting for a decent grocery store.”