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Two supermarkets to provide new fresh food options in city neighborhoods

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: It’s unusual for two supermarkets to open in St. Louis only months apart in or near neighborhoods where food deserts have taken root. That’s about to happen with the coming of two contrasting supermarkets.

Fields Foods, which markets itself as a full-service grocery store that evokes a neighborly atmosphere, will open a facility in January at 1500 Lafayette Ave. on the south side. Meanwhile, ALDI is putting the finishing touches on a new store at 702 North Kingshighway Blvd. It will open Nov. 1, replacing an older store at 1315 Aubert Ave., farther north.

Rob Jeffries, the O’Fallon division vice president for ALDI, says the new store will have higher ceilings, more natural lighting and many energy-saving features.

"We are pleased to showcase the new look of ALDI with this updated store and continue to help customers stretch their dollars," he says. "As important as price is, there’s only one way to attract and keep shoppers. You have to have quality products.”

The store will try to succeed at a location where two grocery stores previously folded. The site used to be occupied by a National supermarket. It later morphed into a Schnucks store and had been vacant for years before ALDI decided to put a store there.

In contrast to the shopping experience at a Schnucks, customers at an ALDI will find open carton displays and no free shopping bags. Customers tend to bring their own. It's all part of the chain's effort to keep prices lower while offering food of comparable quality. The store will be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. ALDI says it opens an average of 80 stores a year.

Shading her eyes as she stood in front of a window and looked inside the empty store, Tinisha Neal, a 26-year-old, was searching for someone to discuss employment with her. She says she can’t find work as a dental assistant  because she lacks experience.

"I’d like to be a cashier,” she says. Even if that doesn’t happen, she likes the idea of a grocery store close to where she lives on the north side.

"It’s a good thing that they are opening because it will help this community. It also will help people who don’t have transportation and have to walk to the store.”

As for employment, she might have better luck later in the year by going across town to Fields Foods. That’s because ALDI tends to operate with relatively few employees. But Fields Foods says its will hire more than 100 full-time and part-time workers. The store will open Jan. 4. Hours will be from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

The founders of Fields Foods are Chris Goodson and Jeffrey Randol. They also are founders of St. Louis Food Hub, which distributes, processes and retails foods from local farmers and food producers. The location of Fields Foods is probably no accident, because the hub is headquartered in the Lafayette Square district. The project is part of a $120 million redevelopment of the old City Hospital site.

"It’s in our nature to create healthier communities one bite at a time," Randol said. "My partner and I have strong roots in the community, and we want Fields Foods to be an inspirational experience and a culinary adventure.”

He says one of the store’s aims is to "attract downtown workers who need to pick up fresh or prepared foods” before their commute home. But Goodson cites another value of the store.

"It has been a challenge for area residents to find fresh food options,” he says. "Now the community will have a wide array of choices, many straight from the farmers' fields directly to the store. It’s a very positive partnership because Fields Foods will be supporting both our local farmers and our neighborhoods."

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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