The neighborhood grocery store
Neighborhood grocery stores meet customers’ needs.
By Julie Bonner Williams | Photography by Johnny Quirin
With millennials and baby boomers shopping side-by-side in grocery aisles, neighborhood markets are attracting customers by blending hip trends and old-time charm.
There’s a young generation entering the grocery business with new ideas to meet the demands of a marketplace in transformation.
Here’s a look at four local markets that are adapting to changing times.
200 Union Ave. NE
“I kind of live out of the deli case,” says Ilana Chamelly, grocery manager at Martha’s Vineyard and daughter of the store’s owners, Kameel and Shelley Chamelly.
“We’ve recently gone through an expansion and now we have an extended deli — a really nice deli with a lot of fresh foods.”
She noted the healthy choices make it possible for customers to eat conveniently and on-the-go “without feeling guilty.”
Another recent change is a 15-foot produce section near the front of the store as well as a larger refrigerated area — making Martha’s a one-stop market for shoppers.
When Kameel Chamelly began the business in 1981, it was best known for its exceptional selection of wine. Now the shop boasts changes befitting the clientele’s desire for healthy food options.
The remodeling of the store began in late 2014 when the family’s Nantucket Baking Co. moved out of the building on Union Avenue to a new space around the corner at 615 Lyon St. They also opened Lyon Street Café, serving espresso drinks and baked goods from Nantucket.
Chamelly added a 20-space parking lot after demolishing a storefront that was located between Martha’s and Nantucket.
The old bakery space became Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Pizza Shop. Last November, walls were removed to allow for the store’s expansion.
Ilana Chamelly attributes the neighborhood store’s success to excellent customer service.
“We’re very knowledgeable and passionate about what we sell,” she said. “We were specialty-focused with imported foods in recent years, but seeing the demand around the neighborhood, we’ve added more fresh items. People really like organic, and we’ve increased that.”
Also contributing to the market’s place as a destination-shop is the availability of imported items. Ilana says the market draws new and established customers who have travelled internationally and returned home craving new favorite edibles.
While still a supplier of great wines, Martha’s also offers a large selection of beers — and hard ciders, something Ilana calls “a really big thing.”
The market also has retained its dedication to provide local shoppers with an extensive offering of gourmet foods.
“I think our gourmet selection is quite unique — French olive oils, high-quality Italian vinegars, and prosciutto from acorn-fed pigs, as well as duck prosciutto,” she said, naming a triple crème brie cheese, Delice de Bourgogne, as one of her guilty pleasures.
The market staff used uses freshly baked breads from Nantucket to make its deli sandwiches. “If you buy a sandwich from us — that bread was baked today,” Chamelly said.
Grand Rapids Central Market
Grand Rapids Central Market
57 Monroe Center St. NW
Christina Meuser had a plan. After four years of working at Grand Rapids Central Market, she heard the shop was for sale and coaxed her parents to buy it.
Tom Powell, her step-father, formerly had owned Les Idées restaurant in the mid-’80s and later was part owner of Gibson’s restaurant. Her mom, Cheryl, was a pastry chef.
In March 2010, they bought the downtown store.
“Christina tells the story of how she suckered us into coming down here and buying the business,” Tom said with a laugh. “We knew it had a future. We knew what we were in for — I’d been in business. The first couple of years were rough.”
Known for great sandwiches and salads, the family recently expanded the product lines, adding a fresh-meat case complete with GMO-free, natural chicken, steak and chorizo sausage, and increasing the produce department.
“We have plans in the next couple of months to carry hot, prepared foods, rotisserie chickens,” said Tom. “As more people move downtown, we’re adding more produce, staples and household items.”
As they prepare to bring in a selection of hot, ready-to-eat foods, the market currently offers such entrees as meatloaf and butternut squash lasagna that can be taken home and heated to serve.
Meeting the need for not only downtown shoppers but also for shoppers who seek out local products, Central Market carries about 30 percent Michigan food items and continues to add more.
“About 25 percent of the Michigan foods are natural or organic,” said Meuser, who is now a co-owner of the store.
While they stock a wide selection of local beers and ciders, both Christina and Tom name the shop’s wines as personal favorites. Tom, a devotee of burgundy, says he carries some selections customers won’t find just anywhere.
“I carry some West Coast wines you won’t find in any other store — they’re very limited in West Michigan. There’s a Pinot Noir from Oregon that only a few cases came to Grand Rapids, and I have one of them.”
He said the store’s exceptional cheese selection is another personal weakness. Yet the items that bring in many of the market’s customers are specialty items made by the family, such as rosemary cashews or Cajun cashews, or Cheryl’s freshly baked cakes.
“People come in specifically to get Cheryl’s flourless chocolate torte,” Tom said.
2225 Plainfield Ave. NE
When Alan Hartline bought Kingma’s Market in October 2014, longtime shoppers told him they wanted their market to stay the same.
More than a year later, Hartline is somewhat of a neighborhood hero, preserving the beloved store while adding — not subtracting — new items.
“People had pulled me aside and said, ‘Don’t make changes.’ Now it’s: ‘We love what you’re doing with the store,’” Hartline says.
When the Kingma family decided to sell the store after more than 70 years in the produce business, Hartline walked through the Plainfield Avenue market and knew he could bring an even better Kingma’s to the current and upcoming generations of shoppers.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I saw the upside. I saw a tired facility that needed love in so many ways — product quality, value. I was excited about the opportunity and where we can take this,” he said.
Kingma’s is the hub of the Cheshire Village neighborhood, offering residents an extensive selection of wines, beers and cheeses as well as pastas, sauces and produce.
A major draw is the meat counter, revered for a large selection of meats and superb service.
On a quest to bring an even better Kingma’s to the neighborhood, Hartline spends much of his time on the sales floor, listening to customers.
The practice has led to more local items, an expanded produce department and more gluten-free and organic foods in response to the demand for healthier fare.
He’s also added another cooler filled with chilled craft beers.
“I’m on the sales floor six days a week, listening to customers,” Hartline said.
“I’m in this for the long haul and the community. They’ve embraced the changes I’ve made. It’s a great neighborhood relationship.”
With about 50 percent local items during peak season, Hartline says the door to his receiving area is one of the busiest in the area and a place where he greets local growers bringing in apples, melons and more. This dedication to providing farm-to-fork eating led Hartline to re-think the market’s interior and exterior signage. An outline of Michigan now crowns a wall overlooking the produce section.
Hartline says of the new, simplified logo that replaced the former cornucopia on a green background: “It really came about with re-establishing the company, asking, ‘Who is Kingma’s today? Who is Kingma’s in the future?’”
But Hartline’s vision for an even-better Kingma’s isn’t complete. Currently in the works are seafood vendor shows, grab-and-go ready-made foods — and, says Hartline, pulling a rolled-up blueprint from near his desk, “plans for a second location.”
1403 Plainfield Ave. NE
Grand Rapids’ north end is populated by loyal, long-time residents who have resisted suburban flux and stayed put.
Longstanding neighbors in the Creston Heights area at the south end of Plainfield Avenue have seen businesses and organizations open and close, including a movie theater, roller-skating rink, a public library and even their beloved Creston High School.
Yet one neighborhood fixture has remained steadfast: Creston Market.
Originally established in 1876 as a small grocery store, the business has experienced a wide array of owners and facelifts and has re-surfaced as a go-to locale for everything from fresh produce to great wines, craft beers and local coffees.
In 2004, co-owners Tom Cronkright and Lawrence Duthler purchased the building, then leased it to another business operator. Eight years later, they decided to go into the grocery business.
“The minute we walked into that building, we could see potential,” Cronkright said. “We made the decision to acquire the business as a statement to the neighborhood. We wanted to step up and say, ‘We’re willing to make a large investment in the neighborhood.’”
The two have remodeled the store’s 19th century interior, uncovering several antique apothecary bottles in the process.
They chose to retain the store’s original tin tile ceiling and wooden butcher windows, which now frame the front of the shop’s wine department. And they opted for a storefront with a canopy modeled after one from the 1950s.
Yet a changing framework was just the beginning.
The first step in re-thinking Creston Market as a local grocery shop was a focus on bringing in fresh produce, buying as much as possible from local growers.
The emphasis on buying Michigan products was something Cronkright says is a storewide goal.
“I think we’re about 35 percent (Michigan products): a lot of the produce when it’s in season, as well as tortilla chips out of Detroit and sauces from Traverse City. The dairy we sell is Michigan-based,” Cronkright said.
With certified wine sommelier Daniel Moleski on staff and self-educated beer expert Randall Kidd, the owners’ desire to bring in great wine and beer is undeniable. As with other store items, Creston Market’s beer selection is largely from Michigan.
“Local beer is my focus. People love buying local, so I try to keep it Michigan-centered. Probably 40 to 50 percent of our beers are Michigan beers; one full cooler is Michigan single (packaged) beers,” Kidd said.
According to Cronkright, since he and Duthler took charge, store traffic has doubled.
“We’re starting to draw downtown traffic — picking up coffee on the way to work and a bottle of wine on the way home,” Cronkright said, adding that the best is yet to come.
“The Creston neighborhood is ready to go through a major change,” he said. “The next 18 months are going to be very exciting here.” GR