NEW YORK- Your move, Whole Foods.
New York-based retailer Fairway last month opened its newest location in Brooklyn, and in so doing, fired the latest shot in a battle for the hearts and stomachs of New York grocery shoppers. Featuring a large variety of fresh and prepared foods, and spectacularly set in a restored warehouse overlooking New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, the Red Hook Fairway is positioned to become the next destination grocery store in a city that's been spoiled by several such locations in recent years.
Once dominated by small corner groceries and delicatessens, New York more recently has become home to numerous large grocery stores focusing on unique products, gourmet foods and lavish fresh offerings. Earlier this spring, shoppers stood in line at the opening of the city's first Trader Joe's, located just down the street from a new Whole Foods Market doing brisk business. Internet grocer FreshDirect in the meantime has also become popular, promoting its style of fresh and prepared foods for New York shoppers. Food Emporium, the upscale banner of A&P based in Manhattan, recently announced it would transform one of its locations to a gourmet store later this year.
Among the pioneers of the fresh grocers in New York, Fairway has weathered the arrival of FreshDirect - co-founded by a former Fairway partner - and Whole Foods, which two years ago planted a flagship New York location just blocks from Fairway's Upper West Side store, which was founded as fruit stand in 1940. Its newest store - the fourth in the chain - is fighting back.
While SN toured the new store recently, Robert Ivers, head grocery buyer for Fairway, stopped short of saying the retailer felt its market position usurped by the new arrivals, but said he was confident that Fairway's selection, prices and authenticity would help the new store succeed in spite of the competition.
"Whole Foods and FreshDirect just can't compare to the sheer amount of SKUs we have here," Ivers told SN. "And our pricing is very sharp - we're cheaper on most items and extremely competitive overall."
The store is housed in a former coffee warehouse dating back 150 years, according to Fairway. Handsome iron shutters adorn five stories of arched windows on the building's brick facade. Merchandise offerings - piles of fruits and vegetables, as well as dry grocery and nonfood items - are merchandised beneath the awnings outside the store.
Inside, a massive produce section occupying two separate rooms greets shoppers. Specialty sections include olives and olive oils; service meat, seafood, and cheese departments; bulk foods; extensive organics; dried fruit and nuts; fresh roasted coffee; and an in-store cafe with seating for 50 - more on the outdoor patio, which offers stunning views of the harbor and Statue of Liberty. Prepared foods are made in a kitchen on the second floor of the building, Ivers said.
Fairway is considering opening a fine-dining restaurant on an upper floor, reports said.
Signs and store advertising highlight the selection of hard-to-find items and freshness, delivered with a New York attitude. "Our fish is so fresh you can't smell it," reads copy in the store flier. Another section of a recent ad, promoting organic offerings, reads, "Who needs Whole Foods? We are 25% cheaper."
Ivers said the store is also well regarded for its prices and selection of branded Center Store items, which could bring additional pressure on Pathmark, the Carteret, N.J.-based operator of two local stores. "Nobody merchandises cereal like we do," Ivers said, noting a massive display of Cheerios.
"It's a phenomenal store. It certainly will put unprecedented pressure on Pathmark, and Pathmark doesn't seem to have an answer," Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, New York, told SN. "Fairway is Pathmark's worst nightmare."
A waterfront neighborhood of industry and housing projects in southwestern Brooklyn, Red Hook offers a magnificent setting for the new store but a location somewhat off the beaten path. However, Ivers said the store would draw shoppers from throughout Brooklyn - particularly from upscale surrounding neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Park Slope, to which the store currently offers delivery. Shoppers from downtown Manhattan can arrive via a water taxi that runs on weekends from Canal Street and docks at the rear of the store.
"We're a destination," Ivers said. "Our store in Plainview [Long Island] is the same way - it draws shoppers from all over the island and from as far away as Queens. We think this store will become a destination for all Brooklynites."
He added that a majority of the store's employees are local residents, and that most of them will have the opportunity to move up in the company. "We're proud to be part of the resurgence of Red Hook," Ivers said.
Fairway isn't the only grocer to see the area's potential. In nearby Gowanus, Whole Foods is reportedly working on an answer.