Pamela Riemenschneider, Aisle Wandering
Pamela Riemenschneider, Aisle Wandering

PHOENIX — It’s amazing, the small things a retailer can do to draw in customers.

Some friends of mine suggested an upcoming area to check out stores when I made a quick visit to Phoenix in early November on my way to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas convention in Tubac.

I hit up the Camelback area, where Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market had just opened a new store.

It was in the same complex with a Trader Joe’s, and I was there on a Wednesday morning so I could catch a local farmers market. There also was a Fry’s across the street, which makes for a quick couple of stops.

The difference in shoppers I found on one side of the street from the other was pretty amusing.

I parked outside the Trader Joe’s and walked the farmers market, a small assortment of producers with a great selection of locally grown and premium items camped out on the front covered sidewalk of the strip mall.

The market was anchored by a local producer, McClendon’s Select, and ran like a well-oiled machine. Product was displayed in bright yellow RPCs and extra was stored in two reefer trucks in the parking lot. There was a healthy crowd of people picking up produce and getting advice on juicing from employees.

Trader Joe’s was what I expected — kind of quiet, with a few early morning shoppers in the aisles and cheerful clerks stocking for the day.

The new Camelback Whole Foods, which opened in September, was a smaller version than the Whole Foods stores opened three or four years ago but followed along the lines of the Austin, Texas-based retailer’s recent focus on mid-size locations.

The produce department was a modest size, with an average selection. It didn’t wow me and it didn’t disappoint. I saw several people walking out to their swanky cars with smoothies from the prepared foods bar in hand — typical early morning Whole Foods shoppers.

How the other side shops

At Fry’s however, it looks like the Kroger-owned chain has abandoned the hipsters and yuppies to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s across the street — in the mornings, at least.

I was elbowed out of the way by a swarming crowd of snowbirds intent on their Wednesday free coffee at the in-house Starbucks. The in-store cafeteria was full of them, watching the news on the wall-mounted televisions. There was a tray of complimentary doughnut samples and a carafe of coffee available.

When I made my way over to the produce department, that lure to bring in the snowbirds paid off with a department buzzing with customers, more than I’d typically expect this early in the morning and far more than I saw at Trader Joe’s or the fancy new Whole Foods across the street.

Fry’s certainly knew how to take advantage of an opportunity.

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