Smith’s start is a strong one

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Business > About 14,000 people went through the store on opening day

By Arin McKenna

The ribbon cutting for the new Smith’s Marketplace Wednesday was relatively quiet, at least compared to what followed.
Within an hour of opening, the parking lot was starting to fill up and by lunchtime it was packed.
Reports kept coming back to Los Alamos Monitor — at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 11 p.m. — it was still packed.
The trend continued Thursday and Friday and shows no sign of letting up any time soon.
“I can’t release sales information, but I can tell you that both yesterday and today (Wednesday and Thursday) we exceeded anything we thought was possible at this store,” manager Erik Boehm said. “So it will be an impressive store when it’s all said and done.”
Boehm was able to provide some figures about the number of transactions. The store racked up 8,900 transactions the first day from an estimated 14,000 people. Day two saw 7,000 transactions from approximately 12,000 customers.
“So we probably put 26,000 people through the store in the last two days,” Boehm said.
That estimate may even be a little low, considering the number of people who just came in to check out the store without making a purchase.
Smith’s will not have demographic information available for a couple of weeks, but Boehm himself — who has been out on the floor continually, interacting with customers — encountered a significant number of people from Albuquerque as well as nearby areas.
The Santa Fe Smith’s stores reported slower than average sales the first two days the Marketplace was open, and it appears their customers were flocking to Los Alamos — quite a reversal from the usual exodus off The Hill to Santa Fe.
“In talking with customers, they were expressing their interest in having a store like this in Santa Fe, but until that happened, they felt comfortable shopping here, with only a half-hour drive,” Boehm said.
Feedback so far has been positive, aside from requests for particular items and for expanded breakfast options.
“I think the most common word is ‘Wow,’ and then the second most common is ‘I can’t believe I’m in Los Alamos,’” Boehm said. “It’s been tremendous, the reaction of the community. They’ve been very thankful. I’ve had people shake my hand a thousand times, saying, ‘Great job. We love the store.’…Nobody was like, ‘I hate you. Get out of our town.’ It was very warm, very welcoming, very exciting.”
The types of purchases also engendered some surprises.
“Our lunch rush−and it is a rush−is something that we weren’t even anticipating,” Boehm said,
“Murray’s Melts has been a tremendous success,” Boehm said. Murray’s Melts, an extension of Murray’s Cheese Shop, serves what Boehm calls “adult” grilled cheese sandwiches−gourmet selections that appeal to the entire family.
“We’re the third Murray’s Melts in the country, and we’ve sold more Murray’s Melts in two days than they have at the other two stores combined in their existence. The Murray’s guys that are here were telling me that they have never seen something like this. It was insane. They’ve been knocking their socks off.”
Murray’s representatives on site to help with the opening altered their plans to leave on Friday.
“They’re going to stay another week, because they can’t keep up with production,” Boehm said.
One of the most popular items on that menu is a new sandwich created just for this store: the Manhattan Project, which caters to local tastes with items such as green chile.
Grocery sales have actually been slower than anticipated, but other areas are exceeding expectations. The bakery, deli, Starbucks and produce departments are going strong.
“It’s the unique things, compared to cans of corn. You can’t get a Murray’s or a fresh made rice bowl anywhere else,” Boehm said.
Boehm was also “very pleasantly surprised” by sales of apparel, bikes, patio items and the expanded home goods section.
By 3 p.m. Friday, the store was seeing more actual grocery shoppers, a trend Boehm anticipates will continue.
“So we’re going to see those shopping trends kind of fluctuate, until people get in the rhythm, and then whole store will shift and we’ll kind of get in our rhythm where we can predict a little bit better,” Boehm said.
Despite tremendous preparation and a cadre of employees to assist customers, the massive influx of customers has caught Smith’s somewhat off guard. At least checkout lines are virtually nonexistent.
“Everybody has been very understanding about everything, and the excitement’s still there,” Boehm said. “And we’re continuing to hire so we meet the needs of everybody. So those of you looking for a job, we’ll help you out.”
Despite the numbers, the 110,000-square-foot store accommodates the crowds easily and customer service representatives are readily available to assist customers, something Boehm said will continue in the future.
“That’s our standard. We’re in the business of customer service. If we’re not taking care of you, we don’t have the store. So we have to do the right thing and make sure that you’re happy. And my team understands that, and they’re committed to it 100 percent. We all are.”
Customers will have to have some patience for beer and wine service to commence on the patio as Smith’s addresses some licensing issues. There wasn’t an estimate of how long that might take.
For now, Boehm is working on at plan to get food service to the patio and wine bar, which would allow people to order food at the deli and have it run out to them. Murray’s Melts is already offering that service in the wine bar.
From his office on the second floor, Boehm said everything was running according to plan at the new store.
“It’s fun to see everybody running into each other, hanging out at the bar,” Boehm said. “This is the first time I’ve actually sat up here, except for chucking my lunch and running back downstairs. It’s so exciting on the floor with everybody, and getting their reaction and the feedback. There’s no reason I’d be up here.”