Safeway to open store of future in Bowie today

Experimental: Safeway is to open its largest supermarket on the East Coast today in Bowie. Take your laundry.

January 30, 2002|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

In the biggest Safeway on the East Coast, shoppers can relax over coffee and biscotti at Starbucks, drop off the dry cleaning, pick up pizza to go, or even do their grocery shopping.

The expanded, gourmet supermarket, which Safeway calls its "next generation" design, opens today in Bowie Town Center. The store's new look and layout, wider assortments of produce and prepared foods and mix of specialty departments are designed to lure shoppers - and give Safeway an edge over competitors.

The prototypes "will allow Safeway to profitably expand and profitably grow sales and market share," said Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Reach Marketing in Westport, Conn. "Safeway has decided to make a strong capital commitment with the opening of this strong prototype, and by continuing to expand in the greater Baltimore, Washington and Maryland market."

The new stores - at about 65,000 square feet - can cost more than $10 million per store to build, some 12 percent to 15 percent more than the typical 55,000- square-foot store, Flickinger said. But sales can be as much as double the sales of the smaller stores, reaching $15 million to $20 million a year, he said.

The new design is merely experimental for Safeway, which has been testing its store of the future since late 2000 in Denver and Northern California.

For now, Safeway's latest prototype represents a small part of the chain's aggressive growth; just 12 of 85 new Safeways this year will feature the new format.

Safeway's Lanham-based Eastern Division opened its first new prototype in Alexandria, Va. in November. But that division, with 134 stores in Maryland, Virginia and Washington likely won't open another "next generation" store until 2003.

"We're still trying it, seeing how it performs, seeing if it meets projections so we can determine how aggressively we want to pursue this format in other markets," said Gregory A. TenEyck, a spokesman for Safeway's Eastern Division.

Deciding where to build such stores depends upon land availability and demographics. The new format is expected to work best in middle- to upper-income and fast-growth neighborhoods, he said.

"This makes a lot of sense; there's opportunity here," said Jeffrey W. Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade journal based in Columbia. "Safeway is a very lean and efficient company ... but in my opinion had been a little too disciplined and a little too staid in the merchandising area. Now they've got a bigger box to draw consumers to.

"There are many locales in the Baltimore-Washington area where people will respond to a greater variety."

The new Safeway store has a prime spot at Bowie Town Center, an outdoor shopping center anchored on either end of a long "Main Street" of shops by freestanding Hecht's and Sears stores.

Some departments ordinarily at the back of the store have been moved up front to make shopping more convenient.

At one of the two main entrances, shoppers are greeted by a full-size Starbucks coffee shop and a "food court-style" area with the deli, bakery and seafood departments.

The deli counter stretches 84 feet, twice the size of a typical Safeway deli counter, offering sushi, panini sandwiches and other take-out meals as well as the typical assortment of meats and cheeses. Bread, cakes and cookies are baked from scratch.

A natural foods market with some 3,000 health foods is set apart by its wood flooring and low shelves at one corner of the store.

Grocery aisles have gourmet versions of pasta, soup and coffee interspersed with the regular pastas, soups and coffee.

The pharmacy, set apart in its own large kiosk, has also been moved to the front of the store, near the second main entrance and an expanded produce area.

Such features will "make this a real power player store in the marketplace," Flickinger said.

"Safeway ... is looking for one-stop shopping solutions for consumers [who] are increasingly time-starved."

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