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August 21, 2021 - 11:10am

Downtown grocery store makes 'A-Lot' of renovations

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The owner of Save-A-Lot at 45-47 Ellicott St., seeing the improvements his landlord was making to the downtown building, said he figured the time was right to create a “fresh, modern” look to the grocery store that will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in December.

“When we heard that Victor (VJ Gautieri Constructors Inc. President Victor Gautieri) was going to update the building -- putting apartments on top of the store -- we decided to extend our lease and renovate our location here,” said John Hedlund, a Niagara Falls resident and owner of five Save-A-Lot stores in Western New York,

“We put about $300,000 into it, giving it a fresh, modern feel; a new décor package and new life.”

So, while the Gautieri company was completing the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project that resulted in 10 market-rate apartments on the second floor (and continues to prepare another 18,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor), Hedlund went to work on updating the grocery store.

Hedlund, who is in a partnership with William Larson of Pennsylvania, the former owner of the Corfu IGA store, provided details of the changes while giving The Batavian a tour of the store earlier this week.

“We shortened up the hallway to the entrance of the store, and we’ve expanded our produce, meats, dairy and frozen food items throughout the store,” he said. “New windows on the front give it more of a grocery-store look, plus we’ve replaced a lot of equipment and we added new lighting and paint.”

In the grocery business for 44 of his 60 years, Hedlund said he likes Save-A-Lot’s new branding and signage, and is pleased with the results of his decision to shorten the aisles and add a center aisle.

“By doing this, it gives customers the opportunity to not be crowded in the aisles, so they have room to step aside and not be pushed around,” he said. “It just gives everyone more space. We’ve done this with all of our stores, and it really ended up being a positive thing for everyone.”

Hedlund owns Save-A-Lot stores in Le Roy (which underwent remodeling recently), Albion (which open three years ago), Salamanca (his first store, which also has been renovated) and his hometown of Niagara Falls.

The Batavia store consists of 18,000 square feet, with two-thirds of it as retail space, Hedlund said. He said that he hopes other businesses come to the location, noting that the increased traffic would help to offset the loss of the store’s “in and out” business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That and other factors such as a minimum wage increase and rising inflation have resulted in higher prices.

“Yes, we’re starting to see that, but we’re trying to maintain the retail pricing as low as possible,” he said. “We’re competitively priced … as we don’t have to carry a lot of items that just sit on the shelves and cost money. We look for terms and we have a lot of buying power through Save-A-Lot as they have 1,000 stores, so that keeps our costs down.”

A licensee, Hedlund said he is qualified to buy through Save-A-Lot and outside vendors, including produce from local farmers.

The store employs about 18 people, including two full-time butchers, a full-time produce manager and full-time operations manager.

“We fresh cut our meats every day and we also offer grab-and-go deli meats on a daily basis,” Hedlund said.

Hedlund said a four-day sales promotion each month will begin on Sept. 4.

“There will be hot sales on produce and meat selections for four days – Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – each month for a while,” he said. “We will be promoting that heavily.”

The store is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Previously (from December 2011): Entrepreneurs saw Batavia needed a grocery store downtown, so they opened one

Photo at top: Save-A-Lot owner John Hedlund next to the new produce display at the Ellicott Street grocery store. Photos at bottom: Expanded center aisle; grab-and-go deli section; frozen foods and dairy section; employee Corey McKenzie cashes out customer Gary Capuano of Batavia. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

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