Photo gallery: See 14 photos of the opening
The sun wasn't up yet, but a dozen Murietans were waiting Saturday at 7 a.m. when Raley's opened its interim store in Murieta Plaza. At left, the new store employees (many of them familiar faces) and Raley's representatives gathered on the sidewalk to thank the shoppers lined up at the entrance.
Friday evening, after a pre-opening gathering for employees at the new Raley’s in Murieta Plaza, store leader Steve Thomas joked that, hey, maybe there will be people waiting at the door when the store opens in the morning. He thought he was kidding.
There were more than a dozen people lined up in the dark for the store's opening at 7 a.m. By 7:15, the parking lot was full.
You could say Rancho Murieta was glad to have a supermarket again.
Kevin Konkel, Raley’s senior vice president for store operations, welcomed the 7 a.m. crowd at the door and said, “We’re here to serve you. Tell us how we’re doing,” Instantly, someone shouted back, “Oh, we will!”
“You guys, there’s fully stocked shelves in there – every aisle!” Jeanie LeBlanc, one of the returning store employees, told her neighbors.
Murietans Beth Buderus and Jan Valine were there with a poster-sized thank-you card for Raley's that they’d posted at the RMA Building for several days to gather signatures.
“Isn’t this exciting? The biggest social event of the year,” said neighbor Judith Embree, wheeling a cart past. Lori Weisser, who has been helping people shop and having to plan Tuesday dinner on Saturday, said, “This changes everything. We have lots of people here who can’t drive. This makes it so much easier.”
Nine-year-old Miley Blough was the first customer through the registers. Her dad, River, picked up the tab for pink-frosted cookies and chocolate mini-muffins. Miley’s opinion of the store: “It’s amazing.”
In the final hour before opening, the Raley's team on hand paused for a photo. Front row from left are store manager Steve Thomas, Kerri Eto and Jim Moore. Back row from left are Tad Baker, Dylan Chavez and Aaron Snider. Chavez and Snider were Plaza Foods employees.
The customer flow was constant in the first hour. They stopped at the front of the store to have coffee and fruit or pastries – part of the opening celebration – and to chat. It’s easy to forget how much the supermarket is a social center for Rancho Murieta, especially in the winter months.
The store closed its doors last July, when the prior business operator was evicted. But the business had been on life support before that, with empty shelves for months.
That was the unhappy then. Now, customers walked aisles and smiled at beautiful stacks of produce, full shelves of canned goods, chips for every taste – you know, a supermarket. One customer was even moved to happy tears.
Raley’s announced plans last May to open a 35,000-square-foot store in the commercial area where the hotel is being built. In November, four months after the eviction of Plaza Foods, Raley’s announced it would serve the community with an interim market in the old Plaza Foods until its new store, a Bel Air, opens across Murieta Drive later this year.
Beth Buderus, left, and Jan Valine presented a card signed by community members.
Konkel, the Raley’s exec, said it was certain the interim store would undergo inventory tweaks during its brief lifetime. And they’re already aware of a couple of items missing from the new store – charcoal and firewood. “I’m sure we’ll discover more of those as we go,” he said, “and we’ll just react to that.”
There are empty shelves with a sign: “Wine and spirits coming soon.” The process for a liquor license requires a certain waiting period after public posting of the application, and that’s in the works, Konkel said. It’s hoped wine and liquor will be for sale in February, he added.
Thomas, the store’s team leader, is a friendly, quick-walking man with what sounds like a Southern accent, though he swears he’s from the Bay Area, He has run a Raley’s in College Greens for three years.
He expects he’ll spend a good deal of time on site. Friday night, after the employee gathering, his kids, 2 and 7 years old, were running around with push brooms, helping the adults clean. Thomas’ wife, Mandy, was working a mop.
The store came together in three weeks, the Raley’s people said – one week of planning and two weeks of work.
“It’s probably the fastest we’ve ever opened a store,” Thomas said. “I know it’s a smaller scale, at 17,000 square feet, but, still, there was a lot to do in those three weeks to get it all done.”
From the archives: