business news in context, analysis with attitude

PARAMUS, NJ -- The worst thing about the fifth and newest Fairway Market that opened this week in Paramus, NJ, is that you have to park about a mile away from the store because of how crowded the parking lot is. I suspect that this will subside a bit as time goes on, but there is no reason to think that Fairway won’t be an enormous success with its Paramus store…and that it will replicate that success when it opens stores in Pelham, NY, and Stamford, CT.

(I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that this will be the first time in the 25 years that I’ve been living in Connecticut that Stew Leonard’s will face legitimate competition. The Stamford Fairway, which should open in less than two years, will only be 10 miles from Stew’s…and it is the same kind of destination shopping experience.)

It was hard to navigate inside the Fairway yesterday because of so many shopping carts and customers…but here are the top six things that I liked about the store:

• Walk in the front door, and the aroma of garlic wafts through the air, and you are overwhelmed with a sense of being in a foodie’s paradise. It just envelops you and draws you into the aisles. (There also was a wonderful display where people could sample more than a dozen different kinds of olive oil…and you could feel the passion shared by the store and its shoppers.)

• Dan Glickberg, the fourth generation of the family that owns and operates Fairway, was walking through the store when one customer asked for a particular produce item…and he asked the shopper if he could wait about ten minutes because there was an accident on the George Washington Bridge that slowed down the truck from the market, and it had just arrived. I’ve rarely seen a customer look so happy when informed that he had to wait for something…because he was assured that what he was getting was fresh.

• Prices. They seemed sharp and, in categories that I was familiar with, lower than what I am used to paying. This is not a scientific study, just an impression. But positive impressions are what a shopping experience creates.

• The signs, especially in the produce department. They are big and colorful…and best of all, they describe the products in loving and specific detail, and say why people should eat them. They are among the best produce signs I have ever seen in two decades of writing about this business.

• Merchandise. I cannot believe that this is just a 30,000 square foot store…because it is so jammed to the rafters with groceries – national brands, organics, and private label – that it felt like 100,000 square feet. But while it seemed jammed with product, it is a positive attribute…like there are treasures to be found around every corner. I’d shop there.

• Finally, there is a guy in the seafood department who was slicing smoked salmon. He did it with such deliberate care that he seemed like a cross between a surgeon and an artist. That guy seemed very much emblematic of most of the people working at Fairway – passionate, committed and highly engaged.

Fairway Market is a great store. At a time when so many companies are hunkering down and simply trying to survive the recession, Fairway demonstrates a real sense of innovation, commitment and style.

And, oh that garlic smell. Twenty fours later, it makes my heart sing.
KC's View: