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11/01/2013

THE STORY OF THE YEAR

Tesco's disappointing Fresh & Easy experience...Supervalu's divestitures...Bi-Lo Holdings' acquisitions...the Spartan Stores and Nash Finch merger...Kroger's pending Harris Teeter deal...the potential emergence of Amazon as a real player in the retail food industry...and Safeway's selling and closing of Dominick's in the Chicago market. All altered the landscape in many important regional markets.

The latter event played a major role in what I believe is the best industry story for the year.

It's been the rise of Mariano's Chicago area upscale grocery chain, owned by Milwaukee's Roundy's Supermarkets.

If you haven't heard the backstory, it goes like this: Bob Mariano began his career with Dominick's out of high school in the late 1960s. He worked his way up to become the president of the company, and after building Dominick's into a powerful Chicago entity, moved to Roundy's upon Safeway's acquisition. Bob Mariano ends up heading up Roundy's $4 billion company with the title of chairman and CEO, which he still retains.

Then in 2010, Roundy's opened the first Mariano's in Chicago. It was an instant success, with almost a cult following.

Since then, 13 stores have opened, and five new stores are being built to open in 2014.

To bring the story around full circle, Mariano's recently announced that it will buy 11 former Dominick's stores scheduled to be closed.

How has Mariano's been able to accomplish this extraordinary feat?

Bob Mariano attributes the store's success to assessing each store as a neighborhood store, accounting for the community, shopper demographics, individual needs and interests. Each location is different, with a blend of conventional products at normal prices, and more upscale products for special requests and experiences.

The stores reflect a family-friendly environment that is intended to wow shoppers as they go through the aisles, and around the perimeter to find product displays, and activities that aren't usually seen. The buzz has been increasing, making Mariano's the rock star of food retailers in Chicago.

And the numbers are good. The stores average about 65,000 square feet. Sales range between $850,000 to $950,000 weekly. The company expects to eventually own about 50 stores in the Chicago market.

Quite a store concept, and one that gets my vote as Best Story for 2013.


[Mariano's] stores reflect a family-friendly environment that is intended to wow shoppers as they go through the aisles, and around the perimeter to find product displays, and activities that aren't usually seen.

– Harry Stagnito,

President and CEO, Stagnito Media