It takes more than a humongous rat to keep Westporters away from a fresh new store.
That’s the lesson learned from the opening of The Fresh Market. The North Carolina-based, family owned (and, we now know, non-union) “specialty grocery shop” opened its 1st store in the Northeast — appropriately, in Martha Stewart’s former home town — on Wednesday.
Judging from the packed parking lot and crammed interior, you’d think they were giving away free coffee and hot samples a bazillion dollars.
Braving the traffic and bucking the picketers (am I still a card-carrying Democrat?), I did my “06880” duty this weekend and checked out The Fresh Market.
My conclusion: It ain’t Shaw’s.
Cinnamon — the aroma — hits you in the parking lot, before you even step inside. I have no idea how much an odor-wafting machine costs, but The Fresh Market definitely bought the high-end version.
They spent big buck$ on flooring too — and ceilings, lighting, display cases, you name it. (Apparently not on salaries though, to hear the rat and picketers tell it.)
Where Shaw’s was all tall shelves and narrow aisles, The Fresh Market oozes openness. You can see clear across the store, from one end to the other. (Theoretically, that is — the press of people made that difficult.)
The first thing you see is produce. Nearly a third of the store is devoted to fruits and vegetables, and if the current display is any indication, appearance counts. The apples, for example, teetered on the edge between appealing and plastic. I checked dozens of apples for any mark or blemish; I found none. If fruit were teenagers, kids with even 1 zit would be banned from The Fresh Market.
The produce section also includes an olive bar. Call me sheltered, but I was unaware such things exist in the actual world.
Snack mixes take up a very long area — about the size Shaw’s once devoted to soda and cereal. Each bin has an appallingly cute name: “Berry Good,” “Banana Split” and “Country Club” were 3 I wrote down before retching. The price is also berry expensive: $9.99 a pound.
The Fresh Market offers “European sodas.” I didn’t check, but they could be bottled in North Carolina. Whatever. Flavors include blood orange, Sicilian lemon and peach lemon. I thought about trying to discern the difference between Sicilian and peach lemons, but my attention was diverted by “international beer boxes”: 10 beers from different countries. Now you’re talkin’.
The meat counter — filled witih filet mignon kabobs, blue cheese burgers, lamb shanks — was impressive. Everything looked good enough to eat. Though I’m sure many vegans would disagree.
A sign by the bread section said: “Bread sliced by request.” I wondered what circumstance could possibly compel someone to ask a market worker to slice bread, before remembering that I was, after all, in Westport. Perhaps during the next union negotiations, employees can ask to be paid more for extra tasks, such as bread slicing.
What’s that you say about union negotiations? Sorry. My bad.
The checkout line demonstrated that, although you can take the Shaw’s out of Shaw’s Plaza, you can’t necessarily change everything. The wait was interminable — as before — despite a battalion of baggers. But The Fresh Market does not even offer an express lane, for people with 10 (or 11) (or 14) (or a bazillion) items.
Welcome to Westport, The Fresh Market. It’s nice to see the once-moribund parking lot buzzing with life.
Based on the early crowds, you have single-handedly ended the recession.
At least in this town.