Saturday, November 20, 2004

To market, to market...

WinCo opening marks latest move in revitalization effort

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Gleaming white floors and the scent of fresh paint greeted throngs of Vacaville shoppers when WinCo Foods Inc. opened its discount retail grocery store this week on Davis Street.

Some 1,000 shoppers had checked their purchases through the mega market's 18 stations just less than three hours after the store opened, said Richard Bustillos, store manager.

"We're doing as well as we expected, and it's going to get better," Bustillos said confidently.

Lifelong Vacaville resident Virginia Kloppenburg perused the full service deli, meat and seafood selections with her husband, Lee, who quipped that the roughly 110,000-square-foot store was "great, but I need roller skates."

"It's kind of fun; it's wonderful," Virginia Kloppenburg added.

However, a lone protester with an American flag stationed on Davis Street in front of the store held a sign protesting the nonunion enterprise - a reminder that there were some who didn't believe the store would be a good addition to Vacaville.

Last year, six homeowners living in proximity to the store as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 373 attempted to derail its construction.

The group filed a lawsuit, challenging the city's approval of a single "big box" tenant at the newly developed Davis Street Plaza - formerly the site of the old Vacaville Fruit and Nut Co.

The Vacaville City Council first approved the Davis Street Plaza in February 2002. Ten months later, the Vacaville Planning Commission approved the final design of the project with WinCo Foods as the sole tenant.

At issue with the homeowners was that the anchor tenant to the plaza contradicted the city's and community's vision for a neighborhood shopping plaza. At issue with the union was that WinCo Foods does not hire union workers. But the suit was ultimately rejected by Solano County Superior Court Judge Scott Kays.

Then in March, the City Council placed a moratorium on the construction of any other new, large supermarkets for up to three years. The ban blocks construction of new stores of more than 20,000 square feet on vacant land inside city limits until 2007. The logic behind the moratorium is to support the continued vitality of existing shopping centers and encourage occupancy of stores that have been shuttered - like the old Food Max on Alamo Drive.

The decision to locate the Boise-based WinCo in Vacaville was well studied, said Dave Strausborger, vice president of marketing.

"The survey said this would be a very good site for us," Strausborger said. "We cater to a certain niche of customer and that's basically the soccer mom. A little larger family, medium income."

Strausborger boasted that his store has the lowest food prices in the area, and customers will save anywhere from 20 to 40 percent, "depending on the mix of the basket they get."

The WinCo store employees 212, Bustillos said. The sprawling brick building with blue and red highlights blends with the modernization and improvements of Davis Street south of I-80. Traveling northbound, the thoroughfare finds its way to the historic downtown.

In recent years, dilapidated, vacant structures have been razed to make room for the recently completed Bella Vista Road-Davis Street intersection realignment, park-and-ride project, new traffic signals and major storm drain upgrades. New, modern buildings are taking the place of cluttered strip malls with weather worn, boxy buildings and crumbling, blacktop parking lots.

Motorists today can navigate the area without frustrating delays, including traveling east to the Costco wholesale store at the crest of Hume Way, which connects to Peabody Road. And to the west of the new WinCo Foods is the Bella Vista Center, which boasts furniture, carpet stores and more.

The actual costs of the road construction was about $2 million. And if there is demand, widening of Davis Street will occur in the next five years, city officials have said.

According to its Web site, WinCo is today the largest employee owned company in the Pacific Northwest, with 80 percent of its company stock owned by the employees. WinCo has more than 43 stores in Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon.

Originally a chain of discount grocery stores operating under the names Waremart and Cub Foods, the company changed its name to WinCo Foods in 1998.

Meanwhile in Vacaville, WinCo officials said they hope to draw shoppers with its bottom line: low prices.

Bustillos said that's possible because the store buys directly from the manufacturer and eliminates the middle man.

"The concept is not new but, in my opinion, we have perfected it," Bustillos said. "We try to eliminate the nickel and dime out of the grocery business."

Then, there's the popular draw of the bakery, deli and freshly baked or take home pizza.

"You can even grind your own peanut butter here," he said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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