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A New Kind of Store

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The next step in the local food movement opens this weekend in — you guessed it — California. Oxbow Public Market, located in the up-and-coming city of Napa (“down valley” from the famous wine region), is a 40,000-square-foot retail space that’s shaped like a modernistic barn. Inside, mostly local vendors work out of stalls and stands, selling everything from artisan meats and cheeses to books, kitchen antiques and organic ice cream.

building.jpgThese type of action stations make Oxbow more farmers market than supermarket, since it emphasizes face-to-face interaction between customers and the people behind the products. But the connections get even closer in this store. Many of Oxbow’s butchers, bakers and wine makers (specifically Michael Mondavi) make what they sell on-site, and in full view for everyone to see. That includes the casks used to age the wine.

Being able to see everything might cause some queasiness for those who can’t stand the sight of a flank steak being sheared off a side of beef. On the whole, however, this is just the sort of intimacy that developer Steve Carlin envisioned when he dreamed up the idea. He’s already looking to expand in the Bay Area, and if Oxbow is a success he says he’d like to spread out along the West Coast.

Traditional supermarkets should keep an eye on Carlin and other mavericks in the industry. Their level of success may herald the future of local food retailing and, more immediately, demonstrate the value of transparency.

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