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Specialty Retailers

A Community of Cheese and Wine

By Lorrie Baumann

JGE_6496 for webWith just three tables inside the 900 square foot store and a few more out on the sidewalk outside when weather permits, Marché has become a gathering place for local residents who make it a place to meet during lunch breaks or a stop for a glass of wine and a cheese plate while they’re on their round of the nearby shops in Glen Ellyn’s historic downtown. “We definitely have customers for whom this is their spot,” says Founder Jill Foucré, who opened the store in November, 2015, as an offshoot of Marcel’s Culinary Experience, the kitchenware store two doors down the block that she opened in 2011.

In the cheese cases that took the place of clothing racks after Foucré bought the former clothing store and gutted it to make her specialty cheese shop, Marché regularly offers about 100 cheeses. About half of them are imported, but for the domestic half of the selection, General Manager Daniel Sirko emphasizes the world-class cheeses made in Illinois’ neighboring states. He’s made his entire career in the specialty food business, opening Pastoral, Chicago’s iconic cheese and charcuterie shop, and then moving on to operating in a couple of foodservice establishments before he got a phone call from Foucré, who asked him to come and help her open a cheese shop in Glen Ellyn. “We seek out farmstead artisan cheeses when we can,” he says. “If there’s a cheddar from California or Wisconsin, we’re more likely to go with the Wisconsin cheese.” About half the cheeses in the case belong to a core that Sirko keeps in stock year-round, while the remainder are more seasonal.

_VJP8646The store’s single best seller, though, does come from California. It’s Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog. “It’s so recognizable, and so delicious,” Sirko says. The store also offers a range of Manchego cheeses, and those are very popular, as are triple cremes and a house-made pimento cheese. During the summertime, Marché makes its own mozzarella from curd purchased from a New Jersey dairy.

The cheese selection is augmented by a selection of artisanal charcuterie, olives and tapenades, locally made chocolates and breadsticks and a selection of small-production wines that can’t be found in the town’s specialty wine shop. The shop pours seven or eight by the glass and offers a free tasting every Tuesday in a pairing with a complementary cheese. “The popularity of the wine selection has been a happy surprise,” Foucré says. “We sell a lot of wine.”

Marché’s proximity to Marcel’s, a store that already had a loyal following, meant that Marché had interested customers from the day it opened. There’s still some overlap of the two stores’ customer bases, but each also has its own community within the commuter suburb with a population of about 27,000 relatively affluent residents about 45 minutes west of downtown Chicago. It’s conveniently close to the Metra train line that offers a simple connection to the city for the population of young homeowners drawn to Glen Ellyn by its location in DuPage County rather than Chicago’s Cook County. DuPage County offers good schools, while Glen Ellyn boasts upscale neighborhoods of very community-oriented residents. “People grow up here. They leave. They come back,” Foucré says.

That’s been good for Marcel’s, Marché and other downtown small businesses because it’s also a population that’s supportive of local small businesses, Foucré says. “People get that if they don’t shop here, if they send their dollars online, we won’t be here,” she says. The small business community, in turn, supports the Alliance of Downtown Glen Ellyn and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which are very active in promoting concerts in the park, art festivals and other special events that bring visitors from around Chicago’s metropolitan area as well as local residents out to enjoy the small town ambiance while they patronize the antique shops, book store, clothing boutique and small cafes as well as Marcel’s and Marché.

_VJP9071Marché itself draws two kinds of typical customers, although these come in all ages. There are those who come to buy cheese out of the case to take it home and cook with it or to make a cheese board for their entertaining and those who’ve made the store the gathering place where they meet their friends. “That customer wants us to have more tables and sees us as a quasi-restaurant/cafe,” Foucré says. Both of these kinds of customers rely on Marché to offer them catered cheese boards. These come in four different sizes, serving from five or six up to 40 to 50. They’re served on cherry wood boards that come back to the store when the cheeses and accompaniments have been consumed. “They’re 100 percent complete when you get them,” Foucré says. “People get them for their book club or for the dinner party they’re having.”

Those who are choosing their own cheeses can count on the assistance of Marché’s seven employees, each of whom is very knowledgeable about the store’s wares. During fall, winter and spring, the shop also offers evening classes, and Marché and Marcel’s encourage their respective customers to get to know more about the sister shop by hosting the occasional joint class with a cooking lesson that incorporates cheese and perhaps a wine pairing.

The class schedule is suspended in summertime, when Marché offers extended hours, and there isn’t room in the shop for simultaneous classes and regular retail service. Those extended hours are critical to customers who stop in at the shop to pick up their picnic baskets on their way to an evening concert in the park, either in Glen Ellyn itself or a train ride away in Chicago. The Metra line serving Glen Ellyn cooperates by allowing riders to enjoy their picnic and bottle of wine on the train. “We’re looking to make the on-the-go part accessible for people,” Foucré says. “”So many people take the train…. People have really embraced that.”

She adds, “There will be events throughout the summer that it will be nice to take a picnic box to – and a bottle of wine.”

Now We’re Cooking in Albuquerque

By Micah Cheek

In any business, markets shift and tastes change. Navigating these ebbs and flows is what makes a business stand the test of time. Nancy Herring, Co-Owner of Now We’re Cooking in Albuquerque, New Mexico is in the process of shifting the kitchenware store’s stock and style of business to suit customers’ new needs.

The biggest change Herring has seen is a shift away from cooking classes. “Our cooking class response has really dropped off. I think they’ve decided to spend their money somewhere else,” says Herring. Recently, she has had more success with education groups and weight loss communities that will set aside time to come in and watch a suite of demonstrations. Working with outside organizations also takes some of the administrative work off Herring’s shoulders. “They handle all the advertising and signup,” she adds.

Another changing factor is purchasing habits. Large single-item investments have given way to smaller purchases. “You’ll hear people look at a big piece of cookware and say, ‘That’s too expensive,’ but then they’ll buy that same amount in smaller stuff. I think people have been exercising caution for a while,” says Herring. Now, a large part of Now We’re Cooking’s sales are smaller accessory items. “We have always maintained our integrity as a kitchen store, not a gift and kitchen store. We have some pretty things, ceramics and things, but we don’t go heavy into that,” Herring adds. Lots of entertaining kitchen accessories now are now on display at checkout, and some of Now We’re Cooking’s specific sections, like the baking area, have leaned more in that direction. “We sell a tremendous amount of cookie cutters.”

Because customers are feeling more cautious about higher cost options, Herring keeps cookware for regular use in the break room, and shows customers the wear and tear the pans sustain from regular use. “We’ll show them what their cookware looks like after it’s been used for a while. We’ve been using this for the last five years or whatever, and this is what it looks like,” says Herring. “It’s bigger sizes than I would use at home, but we have an example of every brand we sell. And I think people like to see what they’re thinking about.”

As Herring has been reshaping her business model, she has moved to a new space to suit the new needs of her store. “About two and a half years ago, we moved to this location,” says Herring. “Better layout, better light, it was definitely time for a move. The new store is much prettier than the old store was.” When the store updated its location, the space allowed her to make changes to her previous layout that made everything easier to navigate. “We have rows and rows of Metro shelving,” says Herring. “None of them match. I’ve got old Metro, new Metro, black and white. You don’t notice, you just see what’s on it.”

There are corners dedicated to knives, linens sections and a full gadget wall as well. The only part of the store that regularly changes is three-wheeled shelving units to be moved to make space for classes, and the first row of shelves, which are altered for seasonal items. “We don’t move everything around. I know you’re supposed to keep it fresh for people, but customers know where everything is. Christmas time, we move a lot of things around the front, and bring in a few more things.”

Herring is always on the lookout for what is next for the industry. From her perspective, focusing on color and adaptations of the classics are the way forward. “Everybody’s talking about what’s new. There’s new colors, new adaptations, but we haven’t seen a brand new product,” says Herring. “I remember when bread makers came out! In terms of a new category, we’re not seeing it. It’s back to basics and color. Hot pink mixers and bright Microplanes.”

Central Grocers Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Central Grocers, Inc. has announced that the company and all of its subsidiaries have voluntarily elected to file for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The company intends to use this court-supervised process to conduct an orderly sale of its Strack & Van Til stores as going concerns and anticipates entering into a sale agreement with a stalking horse bidder in the near future. Central Grocers is also seeking to sell its distribution center in Joliet as it winds down its wholesale distribution operations. The company has been cooperating with its lenders and expects to have access to sufficient liquidity to continue operating its stores and winding down the distribution center in an orderly fashion.

Strack & Van Til Stores Are Open for Business

All 22 Strack & Van Til, Town & Country Market and Ultra Foods stores in Indiana and Illinois are open and serving customers. Employees are receiving their pay in the ordinary course. Strack & Van Til intends to pay vendors in full for goods and services provided on or after the filing date, May 4, 2017.

Jeff Strack, President and Chief Executive Officer of Strack & Van Til, said, “Our stores are open, and we are as focused as ever on supporting our customers and providing the legendary service that we are known for. As we move through this process, our priorities, values and commitments to our customers and our communities will not change. We thank our loyal customers for their continued support, and we thank our employees for their hard work and dedication.”

Central Grocers Working Toward Sale of Stores and Distribution Facility

Central Grocers is continuing to work toward implementing a sale of the Strack & Van Til stores and a sale of its distribution center in Joliet and certain other assets. It is anticipated that any such sale transactions will be conducted pursuant to a court-supervised auction process under Section 363 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Ken Nemeth, President and Chief Executive Officer of Central Grocers, said, “In light of the increasingly difficult environment for independent supermarkets and retailers, we have been working tirelessly to achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of our stakeholders. We are using this court-supervised sale process to provide us the time and flexibility to conduct an orderly sale of the Strack & Van Til stores, while we work to sell the warehouse in Joliet and wind down our wholesale distribution operations.”

The company has filed a number of customary motions seeking court authorization to continue to support its operations during the court-supervised process, including payment of employee wages and benefits. In addition, the company intends to file a motion shortly in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking to dismiss the involuntary bankruptcy case commenced against Central Grocers in view of its voluntary Chapter 11 filing.

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