WITH A 121,000-SQUARE-FOOT WEGMANS DUE TO OPEN ON JUNE 7 just a 9.5-mile-drive away in Harrison, does it make good business sense to open a 10,000-square-foot local supermarket in New Rochelle?
Jose Filipe and Jesus Diaz, city officials and a lot of neighborhood residents will tell you it does. Filipe and Diaz have opened their new supermarket at 465 North Ave. on the corner of Lincoln Avenue in the city. Included is an adjacent laundromat making it easy for people to shop while doing the wash.
“We’re owners on-site. That’s going to make us different,” Filipe told the Business Journal. “I and my partner are actively engaged in running the store itself. That will give us the ability to offer a personal touch and personal feeling to our customers as they walk in. With all due respect to Wegmans, and they’re a fabulous and well-run store, we feel we can give the customer a personal feel and designed the store with that in mind to make it feel sort of homey and personal.”
The New Rochelle Farms and associated Wash and Shop laundromat had their grand opening Jan. 21 with a ceremony attended by local leaders, including New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, Deputy Mayor and Council Member Yadira Ramos-Herbert, Fire Chief Andy Sandor, Westchester County Legislator Damon Maher and Catherine White, executive director of the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce.
“New Rochelle Farms serves a vital need in our community by providing convenient access to fresh foods for thousands of residents in surrounding neighborhoods as well as our fast-growing downtown and North Avenue corridor,” Bramson said.
It will almost certainly become more important for residents in view of the Feb. 28 announced closing of a Stop & Shop supermarket at 28 Harrison St. in the downtown New Roc City development, less than a mile away.
New Rochelle Farms is featuring a variety of fresh and prepared foods, a seafood counter, butcher section, deli, salad bar, juice bar and coffee bar. Organic, vegan and gluten-free items are offered. Filipe said they have been doing a solid lunchtime business.
“We’ve hired a chef from Tunisia and his cooking has a flare of Mediterranean and general European as well as American. It’s a great fusion cuisine,” Filipe said.
He noted that there’s a police station, City Hall and offices nearby and customers can do takeout of the prepared foods or eat at the store.
“We have a beautiful sitting area by a window,” he said.
Filipe said that he and Diaz have known each other for more than 30 years.
“We met when I was in the sales end of the industry and was a salesman working for a company that sold housewares to supermarkets for resale. He owned a store at that time,” Filipe said.
Filipe was born and raised in New York City and moved to Fleetwood about 35 years ago. Diaz is Dominican and was raised in Jackson Heights and also lived elsewhere in New York City.
Filipe also is a veteran of the laundromat business having operated one for 15 years at 706 North Ave. in New Rochelle across from Iona College. While that laundromat did not have an associated supermarket, it was named the Website Laundry Center and offered something else that was unique for the time.
“The internet was just starting to take form and I provided free internet service on two public computers on the folding table for students and other customers alike to check this new thing called email and surf the internet. It was at the time a little bit cutting-edge,” Filipe said.
Filipe said while all projects have challenges, in creating New Rochelle Farms they ran into problems with some contractors they had hired who were not from the area. He said once they transitioned to using local companies from New Rochelle and Yonkers things smoothed out.
He said some materials used in the store’s décor were reclaimed from what was discovered when they began peeling back layers of floor tile and concrete. They found the whole building was fitted with beautiful and well-preserved wood flooring.
“We picked up the wood, cleaned it as best we could without destroying the integrity and look of it and used it throughout the store as decoration on the walls. We created shelving out of it. We created bins for our produce. We found some old beams that we also used for shelving,” Filipe said.
He credited the city with being supportive.
“They’ve really been in our corner from day one with the approval process through construction and now at opening,” Filipe said, while adding that he sees a growing role for stores like New Rochelle Farms.
“The experience of going into a big store, a Costco, a ShopRite, is almost now a bit mundane and customers want a smaller, quicker store to do their shopping,” Filipe said. “They will still get bulk items in the bigger stores, but no matter how fast they check you out it’s still time-consuming. When you come into a store that’s 10,000 square feet and has everything you need at the time, you’re going to get in quick and out quick with a personal touch.”
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