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Discount food chain eyes Middlebury

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March 26, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury South Village (MSV) development off Court Street could soon host a 17,000-square-foot Aldi discount food store.

Developers Jeffry Glassberg and Steve Reid confirmed on Friday they have signed a purchase and sales agreement with Aldi, through which the company would buy two lots within the 30-acre project. Aldi would build its new store on one of the lots, while setting aside the other lot for landscaping and parking — though that site could potentially be developed at a later date.

Friday saw Glassberg, Reid and Aldi Director of Real Estate David S. Wolf meet with Middlebury officials and local business leaders to explain the food store’s history and tentative plans. If all goes well, Aldi will submit a building application to the town as soon as this spring or summer, according to Wolf.

“Our goal today is to introduce the (project concept), and Aldi, and listen,” Glassberg said. “We want to hear from folks what they think.”

Founded in Germany in 1948, Aldi now includes more than 3,500 stores in Europe, the United States and Australia. The company currently operates 826 outlets in the U.S., including a store off Route 7 in Bennington.

Aldi bills itself as “an international retailer specializing in a limited assortment of private label, high-quality products at the lowest possible prices,” according to its corporate Web site.

The store makes those low prices possible, in part, through a no-frills shopping experience. For example, Aldi stores don’t have bagging clerks, and customers are encouraged to recycle their own shopping bags, according to company literature. Stores also do not feature elaborate displays, check cashing and customer savings cards.

“Our large, easy-to-read signs, open carton displays and checkout systems are designed to trim overhead and leave more money in your wallet,” the Aldi Web site states.

Aldi also has a system through which shoppers “rent” the grocery carts. Customers insert 25 cents into a machine to release a cart from the corral, then get their 25 cents back when they return the empty cart.

Aldi has established its own private label, offering more than 1,000 everyday grocery and household items, including frozen food, meat and dairy products, canned food, fresh breads, health and beauty products, cleaning products, as well as fruits and vegetables.

“One of the advantages of having a private label is that advertising (name products) costs a lot of money, and is an unnecessary cost to the consumer,” Wolf said, noting those savings are passed on to customers. “It also allows us to control the products better for consumers.”

Aldi’s private label products — which cover 95 percent of its offerings — include “Welby” health products; “King Craft” drills; and “Millville” cereals.

Roughly 5 percent of Aldi’s stock is made of name-brand items.

He said the company will seek out local suppliers for products, “when possible.”

Wolf said Aldi sought out Middlebury because of its central location in the state and because of the income demographics of Addison County. He noted Aldi typically sets up stores in regions that can draw from populations of at least 30,000; and where the median income is $40,000 to $100,000. Addison County fits within both of those profiles, according to Wolf.

“We think it’s a good location,” Wolf said. “All roads lead to Middlebury when you’re in Addison County.”

He conceded an Aldi store would bring competition to the local grocery scene. Middlebury currently has three established grocers and a natural foods cooperative. But Wolf said he believes Aldi would find its own niche in Middlebury, especially in the area of “non-food items.”

Roughly 10 percent of Aldi’s offerings are not food-related, including towels, shrubs, computers, digital cameras and desks. Wolf believes such items are currently in short supply in Middlebury.

Glassberg believes the new store would be as asset to the town and the neighborhood within MSV, which has been permitted for 56 single-family homes, 30 townhouse apartments and a total of 45,000 square feet of office and retail space, including a bank and sit-down restaurant.

“I think it’s great news that Aldi is willing to consider locating to MSV, rather than trying to pick a site on Route 7 South,” Glassberg said.

Any Aldi proposal will have to pass muster with the Middlebury Planning Commission, which had hoped to see a diverse mix of smaller retail operations within MSV. The commission originally approved an MSV design allowing for a combined total of roughly 32,000 square feet of retail/office space to be sited within two buildings.

But after almost three years of trying, MSV developers have been unable to secure the mix of small businesses they had sought.

“It would be a substantial change to the (MSV) planned unit development,” Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said of the Aldi plan.

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