Hervey Juris had stopped off at Kaune’s Neighborhood Market to pick up some fixin’s for a late lunch. This day, it was tuna salad and coleslaw.
“I usually come in here once or twice a week,” Juris said as he paid cashier Sheri Trusty.
Juris, like other regulars at the landmark market at Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta, was taking note of store owner Cheryl Pick Sommer’s recent major renovations of the store.
“It’s really a lovely new ambiance,” Juris said. “Although it took me a while to find stuff.”
That’s in great part because, except for the meat market, the bread area and part of the dairy section, little in the store is where it used to be, and products are no longer displayed in long aisles (by Kaune standards) of row upon row of merchandise packed on floor-to-ceiling shelves.
Now, there are new wooden floors, more subdued natural lighting created in part from unblocking the windows. Even the piped-in music — warm, soothing jazz riffs that swirl around shoppers — is new.
In a way, Kaune’s is a bit like an outdoor market with a roof over it. Products seem arranged more in clusters than in typical grocery lanes of bathroom tissues, paper towels, cereal and plastic-encased bottled water.
“The store is laid out differently than any other grocery store you usually walk into,” Sommer said. “We have a lot of corners, and we set it up so that there are small sections of aisles. Instead of having 15 or 30 feet, we’ve got a max of 6 to 8 feet in one stretch. And so you can see everything. We left spaces so you can wander.”
Added business manager Amy Frank, “There’s a new kind of fabulousness around every corner.”
Why the change? “We felt that a major remodel was what was necessary to grow the business,” Sommer said. With little risk of losing longtime regulars, particular effort was directed at drawing in a younger, new generation of customers who have the money to spend on specialty food items (and the time to look for them) that they likely would not find at, say, Smith’s or Albertsons, and in some instances not even Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Think upscale, food fanciers who would, or maybe have, traveled to the Swiss-Italy border to get their Casaliva olives from 200-year-old trees, or prefer their cheeses rubbed with bergamot oil and orange blossoms.
Kaune owners have always fancied the place, on the same corner since the early 1950s, as a cross between a mom-and-pop neighborhood market with sawdust on the floor and pickles in a barrel, and an upscale pre-Whole Foods specialty store.
With the redesign, Sommer has knocked that niche concept up another notch. She, Frank and wine and specialty foods boss Jim Cook have used trade journals, fancy food shows and the latest inside scoops from product sales people to scout specialty niche growers around the world
There are the jars of organic, hand-picked Italian Violetta de Brindisi artichokes swimming in extra virgin oil, pickled green beans, mochi balls from Hawaii, lavender cheese from an artesian dairy in Utah and fruity balsamic vinegar from Chaparral Gardens on California’s central coast.
“It was our goal to find little suppliers — if we can get the products here at price point that people are going to be will to pay,” Sommer said. “And hopefully in a less perishable form than from a [large operation].”
Cook said one of the store’s goals is to serve “people who care about where their food comes from.”
Longtime customer Jackie Grab sat at a table on the store’s west-side portal, now lined with tables where patrons can eat a freshly prepared chop salad or Google their afternoons away tapped into Kaune’s free Wi-Fi connection, another one of the benefits of the redesign, if you don’t mind the steady drum of traffic on one of the city’s busiest corners.
“The changes are wonderful,” Grab said. “It was so 1960s before. … This may be more expensive, but I think the convenience is worth it. You can get your coffee filters or buy olive oil from France.”
Or as patron Juris put it: “I come here for ‘different.’ ”