February 2, 2012

Save-A-Lot could be good news for Waterville deal seekers

FARMINGTON -- Michael Watts grabbed a gallon of milk in each hand and placed them in his shopping cart, adding to the bag of apples and head of lettuce he already picked up Wednesday afternoon at the Save-A-Lot store.

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SAVING A LOT: Dwight Amos, 69, of Wilton, said he shops at the Farmington Save-A-Lot store because it's less expensive and more convenient than bigger grocery stores. A Save-A-Lot is opening this spring in downtown Waterville, according to the new store's majority owner Zak Sclar.

Staff photo by David Robinson

A single father raising two young daughters, Watts, 34, keeps close track of his grocery bill. He shops wherever he finds the best deals in town and benefits from several stores in Farmington competing for his business.

"For me, price is a really big deal right now," Watts said.

And with a grocery store opening in Waterville this spring, shoppers there will also be able to see the advantage of a marketplace full of options, according to Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Waterville's Save-A-Lot store plans to open April 1 in the former Ames department store on The Concourse downtown, joining a long list of other grocery stores in the city that mirror many of the choices in Farmington.

Lindlof believes the addition of another grocery store is a good sign for shoppers and businesses alike, calling it part of the cluster approach to growing a local economy by having many similar businesses competing to fill their own niche.

When business owners are confident they can succeed in a community, it's because there is a thriving competitive market for customers, she said.

Watts, a welder who works at Bath Iron Works, shops at several stores in Farmington and shifts between the Hannaford, Save-A-Lot and Walmart, which are all within a few miles of each other along U.S. Route 2.

He builds his grocery list for his daughters, Alexis, 10, and Briley, 2, based on a routine of stopping at specific stores that offer good prices on particular items. The $3.83 price per gallon of milk drew him to Save-A-Lot in the Mt. Blue Shopping Center, which is around the corner from his Farmington home near the town line with Wilton.

Watts typically buys certain produce and dairy products at the store, while going to Hannaford for his meat and other items, depending on prices and selection, he said.

Matthew Packard, store manager of the Save-A-Lot in Farmington, said Wednesday he sees many customers take a similar approach to shopping.

The store has been open in Farmington for about a decade and has attempted to build and hold onto loyal customers by offering competitive prices, quality items and convenience, Packard said.

About 90 percent of the items in the store are exclusively produced for Save-A-Lot stores, which offer baked goods, produce, meat and dairy products among other grocery items, Packard said.

There are also national brand items at the stores, which are individually owned and franchised by the publicly traded company Super Value.

Packard, 35, has worked at the store in Farmington since it opened and called it a vital shopping alternative for local residents, many of whom prefer the benefits highlighted by the store's business goals.

Dwight Amos, 69, walked the aisles of the store Wednesday afternoon, searching for a few last-minute supplies before a road trip with his wife, Arline.

The couple lives in Wilton and buys most of their groceries at the store because of the prices and convenience, Amos said.

With arthritic knees, the retired shoe factory worker also finds it easier to shop in smaller stores to avoid wandering around.

On Wednesday, he picked up a box of chocolate chip cookies, some Coca-Cola and a few other items for the long drive to Cape Cod all the while repeatedly saying how quick and easy it was to get his shopping done at the store.

Nicci Pratt, a cosmetologist from Farmington, had a cart filled with an assortment of meat, canned goods and other items Wednesday afternoon. Having to feed two daughters, ages 6 and 2, is a challenge, but it's her 15-year-old son who has the big appetite that makes finding good prices the most important, she said.

Pratt, 36, takes the same approach to shopping as Watts and fills her grocery list at the many stores in town, a practice that she described as being worth it to make sure her family eats well.

David Robinson -- 861-9287

drobinson@centralmaine.com

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