It’s just before noon on a Wednesday and crowds of shoppers are trying to manoeuvre around one another with baskets and grocery carts in tow, while samples of avocado and kale smoothies from the juice bar make the rounds.
From the lunch crowd searching the section of prepared meals and filling containers from the salad bar, to the long line at the meat counter and pop-up seafood tent, there's anticipation in the air for Longo's newest location at Toronto's Yonge Sheppard Centre--a mix-use building in the city's north end.
“We had people lined up outside the door on Saturday thinking we were opening that day,” company spokesperson Rosanne Longo, told Canadian Grocer during a tour of the 40,000-sq.-ft. space that officially opened July 29.
The Yonge Sheppard Centre, which is nearing the completion of a nine-year revitalization, sits at the intersection of the Yonge-University and Sheppard subway lines and boasts ample parking (free for two hours with a minimum $20 purchase), which was one of the major draws when selecting the location, said Longo.
"It's centralized, there's easy access to TTC, its a multi-use centre so people can run all their errands in one place," said Longo of the location. "There's a laundry service here, there's banking, there's a gym, so it offers the most convenience to our guests ... and parking is huge because you can have access to TTC, but we still need parking."
Construction on the store took 18 months and includes the company’s Loft Cooking School; an expanded "Kitchen" area with a build-your-own pasta bar, pizzas and sandwiches as well as its third Corks Beer and Wine bar, all of which adds to in-store experience, which Longo said is "crucial in today's day and age."
Consumers, she said, "desire a great in-store experience--to touch and feel and interact, to learn," she said.
Among the store’s other key additions is a fresh mozzarella station where customers can watch the cheese being hand-stretched on weekends, and a "Living Well" section dedicated to health-focused products. The Living Well section includes its own fridge/freezer section where shoppers can find a wide range of milk alternatives and frozen food items.
When first introduced at Longo's, the Living Well section was integrated with grocery, said Longo. At the Yonge Sheppard store it neighbours the produce section and juice bar--a strategic move given that healthy eaters tend to hit the produce section first, she said.
The Yonge Sheppard opening is the Ontario-based grocer's 34th store. Longo's will cut the ribbon on two additional stores this fall--one in Toronto's Liberty Village and one in East Gwillimbury, just north of Newmarket.
It will also introduce its Pronto Eats concept later this summer--a store located in Toronto's Hudson's Bay Centre between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet that focuses on prepared and ready-to-eat meals.