Here, the lights are soft, the hardwood floors are warm brown, the signs are handwritten in chalk with serifs. Fat pink and red meats are naked on display behind glass cases, not a plastic foam package to be found. Customers carry tote bags and sip hot coffee, pushing small carts past lemon pyramids and perfect rows of shiny apples, mangos and navel oranges.
The anti-grocery store grocery wars are officially here. That much was obvious upon entering the new Fresh Market store in Saratoga Springs, which had its grand opening early Wednesday morning.
Gone are the arrival of giant sterile grocery stores, whose aisles are lit by fluorescent lamps, whose food is unnecessarily constrained by plastic packaging, and whose local offerings are few and far between. In are the Trader Joe’s, the Healthy Living Markets, the Whole Foods. Even Walmart is proposing a small neighborhood market grocery-only store in Niskayuna, while Price Chopper tries a new image on for size with its new Market Bistro concept. Hannaford has renovated some of its existing area supermarkets while Shoprite has added several shiny new locations in the region, but these are firmly within the realm of large American supermarkets.
“Our stores have that Old World feel to them, with the dark wood and the classical music and the leisurely atmosphere,” said Edwina McCormick, a Schenectady High graduate and manager of the new Fresh Market.
Founded in 1982 in Greensboro, N.C., The Fresh Market has more than 100 stores across the country, all styled with a rustic, European feel. The Saratoga Springs store is the fourth location in New York and the second in the Capital Region. Many of the customers who showed up to the grand opening Wednesday have shopped at the Latham location, which opened four years ago.
Bill and Patricia Goodwin were making the trek down the Northway to the Latham store about once a week. Now that the new store is just a few streets away from their Lake Avenue home, they expect to visit about three times a week.
“We’ll be coming down pretty often,” said Bill Goodwin. “We can just walk right down here.”
The self-described foodies like the store for more than its anti-grocery store atmosphere, though. At 24,400 square feet, the new store at 52 Marion Ave. isn’t the biggest grocery store around, but it does offer a variety of foods that shoppers say they can’t find elsewhere.
“We are always seeking out different stores like this that offer different products and different options, instead of just the same old stuff you would find at your regular Price Chopper,” said Pat Goodwin.
The Fresh Market was slated to open its doors at 8 a.m., but when employees arrived at 7 to find a line of people waiting to get in, they let them in early. By 7:45, the Goodwins had already packed their cart full of salad dressing, chocolate chip cookies, drinks, meats and marinades. Fresh Market carries fresh meats unlike anything they’ve ever had before, they said.
Pat Pimentel, 75, stopped by early Wednesday morning for the fish, preferably a good salmon or haddock.
In addition to promising fresh seafood delivered to its stores several times a week, The Fresh Market promises 30 freshly baked breads and 14 different pie varieties at its bakery each day, a full-service meat counter with freshly ground beef, more than 200 imported and domestic cheeses, and a produce department with more than 400 items.
“I just like everything in here,” said Pimentel, who lives in Saratoga but was a regular Latham shopper. “I look for gluten-free items, and special things like spices and hoisin sauce. It’s just fresh here.”
Instead of a traditional ribbon cutting, local officials gathered for an 8 a.m. cracking of the Parmesan. A crowd of shoppers appeared to enjoy the sight of a store employee and Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen trying to wedge knives through a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.