The little big grocer

Jim McInnis, an independent, urban grocer in the Roslindale section of Boston is rowing against the tide - and loving it.

His customers constantly ask him if the business is going to make it. His reply: "Don't worry. We're doing well." Residents are eager for the market to succeed, since it plays a central role in the revitalization of Roslindale Square, one of Boston's numerous older commercial districts.

"It took the community, along with the Boston Main Streets program (see main story) to make this happen," says Mr. McInnis, whose store opened in 1998, seven years after another independent grocery, unable to compete against big chains, closed.

He saw an opportunity to be part of Roslindale's resurgence and help establish a new model for neighborhood markets everywhere.

Sitting at the heart of a densely populated community, the Village Market is surrounded by prospective customers. There are about 13,000 households, including many multifamily dwellings, within a mile of his store.

To capitalize on this, he believes residents must think of him as their "friendly neighborhood grocer." McInnis makes it a point to be in the store, not hidden away in an office, and he stocks virtually everything customers request. "If I don't have good variety, people won't shop me," he explains.

One of the challenges he and other neighborhood grocers face is lack of shelf space. While the typical suburban megastore has 50,000 square feet, his market has only 10,000 square feet.

Nonetheless, McInnis tries to offer choices. To do so means higher shelves (85 inches high compared to a more common 65 inches) and fewer sizes. "There aren't a lot of large families in the area, so I don't carry the larger, family-size items," he says.

He also devotes sections to ethnic foods and organically grown produce.

"I'm trying to be everything to everyone," says McInnis.

The market has generated a substantial walk-in trade, which makes it a key player in Roslindale's commercial renaissance.

"It's become an anchor store for us," says Janice Williams, the executive director of the Roslindale Village Main Street program. "The market allows me to tout the foot traffic in the district."

McInnis likes to hire locally. About 90 percent of his employees are Roslindale residents. "They can walk to work," he says. "A lot of employees don't have cars, but they can still make it in even during snowstorms. Neighbors see their neighbors working here, and that's good too."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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