NEW BRITAIN - Diana Harland made her first visit on Tuesday to the new America’s Food Basket on Allen Street. Navigating the aisles, the Commonwealth Avenue resident said the grocery store had more to offer than she had anticipated.
“I really like the deli and the seafood department,” said Harland. “They have a lot to choose from here and I think this will be huge for the neighborhood.”
Filling the fresh food and grocery void in the neighborhoods on and around Allen Street was exactly what officials of the food cooperative had in mind when they set their sights on New Britain more than four years ago. The store finally opened its doors to shoppers earlier this month, although the formal grand opening won’t be until next week.
Customers shopping on Tuesday said the Four Star Plaza is long overdue for a comeback and are are enthusiastic to have a new supermarket option, especially close to home.
The deli, seafood market and sections for meat, produce, dairy and frozen foods were all busy shortly before noon Tuesday. Dan Williams of Allen Street said he was unaware until this past weekend that the store had finally opened to customers after several false starts. He said the prices were a bit steeper than he anticipated, but he would continue to shop at the store for necessities.
“This place is exactly what the neighbors need,” said Williams. “When Save-A-Lot left (in 2008), we had to start going downtown or up Corbin Avenue or into Newington to go to Stop & Shop. This is a big deal that someone has taken the time to invest in this area. I hope the store helps bring the rest of the plaza back to life.”
The company strategically approaches communities, mostly in urban areas that lack access to affordable, quality food, according to store officials. America’s Food Basket and its three sister stores are merchandised individually based in part on the economics and ethnicities of the area.
“That is the key. We spend a lot of time looking at the demographics and setting up the store accordingly,” former President and CEO Daniel Cabassa told The Herald last year. “Our point-of-sale system feeds us information on what is selling and sometimes we go back and modify our merchandise based on demand from our customers. That goes to the core of our values and helps us keep a pulse on business when you know what the consumer is looking for.”
Leslie Gonzales of Stanley Street wanted to talk more about the freshness of the 22,000-square-foot store itself rather than its produce. She said she has kept tabs on the progress of construction in the last four years and “never thought it would actually open.”
“I kept seeing things in the paper that it was about to open and then it wouldn’t. I never lost faith because I could see that work kept happening here,” she said. “I’m just glad it’s finally open. It’s such a great thing for us around here.”
Construction delays had been blamed for the constant rescheduling of the opening date since last summer. The store was on track to have opened last year around Labor Day before the company pushed back plans to Thanksgiving week and then mid-January. The two most recent target dates for a grand opening and ribbon cutting were in March.
A grand opening and ribbon cutting are scheduled for 2 p.m. April 28 with store representatives and city officials on hand.
Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.