Thoughts and Observations: On Our Community Markets

Local grocery shoppers where I live have been abuzz about the closing of the two Andronico’s Community Markets in Berkeley, and their recent reopening as Safeway Community Markets stores one week ago.  I overheard so many questions about the acquisition. Why would Safeway buy those stores when there are already two Safeway locations nearby- resulting in FOUR Safeway stores within a 1.6 mile radius in Berkeley?  How would the old Andronico’s/new Safeway stores differ? Would the new Safeway Community Market store uphold the high standards of gourmet marketing that Andronico’s spent decades building and perfecting?

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Since November of last year when Safeway announced the acquisition of the five remaining Andronico’s Markets around the Bay Area, locals have wondered how the corporatization of our beloved local markets would change the landscape of our shopping experience. Having been a customer of the Solano Andronico’s location since I was a teenager, I too have been anxious about the change.

After shopping at both Andronico’s and Safeway stores for more years than I care to list (full disclosure: I was an employee of Andronico’s for a very brief period several years ago), I’m here to tell you that initially, the change feels like a blended family of sorts. Due to the fact that the Solano Andronico’s store had already completed some upgrades before the purchase, just a broad overall glance will likely not reveal that much has changed.  When taking a closer look however, the difference could not be more apparent.

The biggest change in layout from the old Andronico’s Community Market is that Safeway moved the bulk foods department up to the very front of the shop- exactly, it must be noted, where the Monterey Market of Berkeley also locates theirs.  This bulk foods department is new for Solano Ave Safeway locations, and is upgraded from the old Andronico’s version.

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But notice the “Heart of Solano Ave” slogan alongside a vintage photo of Andronico’s Markets Founder Frank Andronico.  As a longtime resident of the community, I find it interesting that Safeway, presumably in the name of retaining the old customers and fooling the new ones, has chosen to assume the identity of the Andronico’s Markets founders and their long-standing history as important contributors to the local community by not altering the old store’s existing signage.

Additional improved departments for Safeway at their new Solano Ave location are the much grander meat, seafood and deli departments- basically, these Andronico’s Community Market staples have been left intact during the transition and appear to offer similar products. The salad bar at the Safeway Community Market is also an item held over from Andronico’s, but the similarity stops there.

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This photo illustrates a glaring example of where the new Safeway is falling short of the previous owner’s standards on several levels.  The merchandising on top of the salad bar looks out of place and does not make sense.  Who eats pretzels or bagel chips with their salad?  Plus there’s way too much stuff crowded onto the roof of the bar. And while one might drink La Croix sparkling water with their salad lunch, why clutter the side of the bar too?  If Safeway wants to venture into high-end grocery status, they are going to have up their product merchandising/product display game in a much more refined way.

At the end of the day however, for Safeway I think it’s all about whether they will make the Safeway Community Markets profitable while competing with themselves in their Berkeley locations.  To become truly successful in their new Berkeley venture however, the Safeway Community Markets will have to find a way to capture something that the Andronico’s Berkeley stores held for generations:  their customers interest.  For over 80 years, the Andronico family transformed their markets from its single produce stand modest beginnings to a Solano Ave corner market, and then eventually to a multi-store gourmet market industry front-runner.  Those of us who fed generations of our families with Andronico’s groceries watched this rich history unfold and were captivated, which kept us shopping its stores to see what they would come up with next.  In Berkeley, Safeway has some pretty big shoes to fill. Looks like only time will tell if the new Safeway Community Markets can also capture the hearts of its local and loyal customers.

©2017 Lisa Ihnken All Rights Reserved


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