Shoppers feast on Metro Food MarketThe box office is boffo...

CONSUMER MARKETPLACE

November 07, 1992|By Michael Dresser

Shoppers feast on Metro Food Market

The box office is boffo at the "Theater of Food."

Metro Food Market, the visually stunning grocery store chain that premiered a month ago in Perry Hall and at Perring Plaza, is apparently a big hit in Baltimore's northeastern suburbs.

The word on the street is that top Giant Food Inc. officials, including Chairman Israel Cohen, have visited the store more than once -- and no wonder.

Passers-by have spotted lines forming outside the store some mornings before it opens at 9 a.m. One one recent Friday at lunchtime, the Perring Plaza store had a packed parking lot and all 16 registers open, with lines two or three deep.

Five minutes later, a stop at the Giant store across Perring Parkway from Metro found a thinly occupied parking lot and only two registers open -- and at one of them, a bored clerk was wiping the bar code scanner. Most shoppers were carrying small purchases through the express line -- in effect treating the Giant as a convenience store.

Food World, a Columbia-based trade publication, has estimated that each Metro Food Market is doing about $600,000 a week -- a phenomenal total in this market.

"They've got the biggest store in the area. They've got the most creative concept. They've protected their pricing integrity," said Food World publisher Jeff Metzger. The stores appear to be adhering to an everyday low pricing strategy, he added.

Now that the concept has proven popular, the challenge for Metro will be to find suitable locations for a format that requires about 60,000 square feet. Another store in Eastpoint is under construction, and the chain is aggressively seeking real estate in other parts of the Baltimore area.

Metro is part of the retail division of Super Rite Corp. of Harrisburg, Pa., which also operates the Basics chain in the Baltimore area. According to John Ryder, the Basics president who also oversees Metro, the older chain is doing well, too. He said stores that had been open a year or more posted a 3.5 percent gain during the second quarter -- a solid performance at a time when other grocery chains have struggled to stay even.

Ho, ho, ho' predicted for holiday retailers

"Santa Claus had better make sure that his reindeer are well-fed, well-rested and in shape, because their sleigh will be much heavier this year."

That's the prediction from Kenneth M. Gassman Jr., the colorful retail analyst for Davenport & Co. of Virginia Inc. in Richmond. Mr. Gassman predicts that sales this month and next will rise 4 percent to 5 percent nationally -- a welcome change from last year's holiday horror show, when sales dropped.

According to Mr. Gassman, now that the uncertainty of the presidential election is over, consumers will "reward themselves for their austerity in prior holiday selling periods." As consumer debt levels begin to recede, he sees mall traffic strengthening and fashion beginning to emerge from the cave in which it has been waiting out the recession.

If that happens, President-elect Bill Clinton will be able to claim his message of "change" brought a psychological lift to the country. But Mr. Gassman suspects the same thing would have occurred no matter who was elected, once the demon of uncertainty was exorcised. (He fearlessly made his forecast before Election Day.)

Mr. Gassman did spot a fly in the wassail bowl. Durable goods orders are off, income growth is stagnant, and consumer confidence remains "stubbornly low."

Nevertheless, Mr. Gassman forecasts that "consumers' mouths may be tight, but their wallets will be open." After all, he noted, the almanacs predict cold weather, always a spur to Christmas buying, and "the woolly worm's coat is thick this year."

"Sure, these are legends," Mr. Gassman wrote in his research report, "but legends give us the holidays."

It's time to get Goofy, says watch company

If you're tired of all that Mickey Mouse, this might be the year to get Goofy.

Sounds Fun Inc. of Northridge, Calif., is introducing a Goofy wristwatch to join Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in its Talking Time line of verbose timepieces. The new watch, complete with a three-dimensional Goofy, will mark the 60th anniversary of the Disney cartoon character.

The company says the Goofy watch "embodies not only the actual voice of Goofy, but his personality as well." The alarm sounds like a cow bell.

The watch will be available at such stores as The Disney Store, Toys 'R' Us and J. C. Penney. The suggested retail price: $29.95.

Crate & Barrel headed for debut in Towson

Crate & Barrel, a popular retail chain dealing in home furnishings and kitchenware, will make its Baltimore-area debut next spring at Towson Town Center.

The store, scheduled to open in late March, will employ about 25 people, the Northbrook, Ill.-based company said. Crate & Barrel, founded in 1962, is best-known in this area for its catalog, but this will be its 43rd retail store.

The chain has landed a plum location on the mall's fourth floor, near Brentano's and the top entrance to Nordstrom.

In the Baltimore-Washington area, the chain seems to be following a strategy of following Nordstrom wherever it goes.

The chain has two stores in Northern Virginia -- at Tysons Corner and Pentagon City -- and one in Maryland, at Montgomery Mall. Each shopping center is anchored by a Nordstrom store.

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