One of the most exciting parts of designing the new Ambler Weavers Way is having a blank slate. The former Bottom Dollar store that will become our third Co-op location has been stripped of all its fixtures and equipment and there are no quirky walls, stairs or multi-levels to deal with. One obvious difference for us will be the size of the Ambler store — just about 11,000 square feet of retail space, more than both the Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill stores combined.
It should be fairly straightforward just to place departments and equipment wherever we want, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Weavers Way Purchasing Manager Norman Weiss and I have been working long hours with our architects at Strada (www.stradallc.com) and store layout designers from UNFI, one of our major food distributors (www.unfi.com) to figure out how to configure the store. Our goal is not only to come up with the most efficient use of the space, but also to turn it into a warm, welcoming community gathering place that sells food. How do we bring in some of the intimate feel of the other Weavers Way stores?
Weavers Way is fortunate to be partnering with the passionate folks from the Ambler Food Co-op. When we started to design the store, we reached out to the Ambler advisory committee to get ideas for what the Ambler folks want in their community store. With that feedback in mind, Norman and I started to map out the store.
I’ve been able to pull from my years of working for Whole Foods to understand the “flow” of a grocery store. Enter to the right, have the produce and floral department (in-your-face color and freshness) be first and foremost. Group your “fresh” departments (prep foods, deli, specialty cheeses, meat and seafood) together. Center store, the grocery aisles; dairy and frozen to the far left. Now, circle back to the registers. This is simply Grocery Store 101. Here are some special considerations:
We are going to have Weavers Way’s first full-service meat and seafood department (since there is no longer a butcher in Ambler).
Working with Executive Chef Bonnie Shuman and Alisa Consorto from Chestnut Hill prepared foods, we have designed a kitchen line and work areas that will enable the department to produce more of their delicious foods. We plan for the Ambler kitchen to provide the soups and some grab-and-go items for our two other stores.
There is ample floor space in the produce department for custom bins, to be designed by longtime produce manager Jean MacKenzie and handmade by Ambler community volunteers.
We have planned a large bulk department to continue the movement toward less expensive food options and reduced packaging.
We are still working on the essential areas of the store for community building: a cafe seating area, bulletin boards and a membership information area.
Of course, once you’ve decided where the departments will go, it’s time to hit the road— taking field trips to drool over fancy new Whole Foods stores; gaping at the salad, kielbasa, caviar and cake bars at NetCost; meeting (and lunching!) with equipment vendors.
We will soon be wrapping up our large equipment list, getting quotes and ordering custom-built long lead-time items. Making sure all the equipment is high-efficiency is a priority that will cost more up front but saves money and resources in the future.
I am looking forward to visiting a few reclaimed wood vendors to see what’s available for us to incorporate into bins and tables. Choosing paint, tiles, flooring and other decorative elements will be enjoyable also. Weavers Way Art Director Annette Aloe and I have been sharing ideas we like on a Pinterest board.
Construction documents should be finished by mid-February and we are hoping to start work at the site in March. We are close to our original timeline, looking to open the store by summer 2017. We’ll have more detailed plans to share as we make progress, so be sure to keep an eye on the Co-op website and the Shuttle for updates!