Market vendors mixed on effect of new Jackson Square grocery store
Nations Fresh Foods had 'soft opening' on Wednesday
Reaction is mixed among Hamilton Farmers' Market vendors to the opening of a new 55,000-square-foot grocery store in nearby Jackson Square, with many saying it's too early to tell whether the development will cut into their bottom lines.
Several stallholders told CBC Hamilton on Saturday that business was "slow," but said the lacklustre sales were the result of a post-long-weekend lull and not the brand-new Nations Fresh Supermarket that opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.
"I don't think it does very much to us," said Julia Ng, owner of Julia's Fresh Poultry and Eggs. "It's a little bit slower this time of year, but we seem to be pretty much the same."
Vendor Larry Jantzi said it's "hard to say" if the new grocery store has dampened sales at his stall, Jantzi Cheese, which has been at the market for about 25 years.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm just focus on taking care of my customers."
Unlike Ng and Jantzi, Dave, who operates Sam & Son International Cheese, said the new grocery store has had a "drastic" effect on his sales tallies.
"This week, I noticed that my business was a third of what it was," said Dave, who asked that his surname not be printed.
Some market vendors, he said, "may blame the summer holiday [for the slowdown], but I don't accept that."
Dave said he hopes shoppers will return to the farmers' market once the novelty of the new grocery store wears off. But he said "it's too early" to concoct special promotions to lure back customers.
"We should just be patient for awhile."
Grand opening set for Saturday
Nations Fresh Foods had its "soft opening" on Wednesday, nearly 11 months after Jackson Square management announced the mall was getting a new grocery store.
A Toronto-based company opened the first Nations Fresh Foods in 2012 in Woodbridge and operates Oceans grocery store locations in Mississauga and Brampton.
The firm styles itself as an "East-meets-West" retailer, purveying foods that big-name Canadian grocers carry as well as a host of specialty products from overseas.
Kyle Zheng, a customer service representative for the supermarket, said business was slow on the first day, but picked up steadily as the week wore on.
"On the second and third days, we expected the same amount of people, but the volume increased," he said. "It is making our outlook for the future more positive."
The store, he added, didn't advertise its Wednesday debut, but will promote its grand opening, set for July 13.
Some commentators have said the new grocery store fills a void in the city's core and signals that downtown Hamilton's economic resurgence is continuing apace.
"It's one of the most important developments downtown in the last 10 years," Glen Norton, the city's manager of urban renewal, told CBC Hamilton earlier this week. "It might not be the biggest investment, but it's the significance of having a full-service supermarket."
If they bring more people to this part of the city, it will definitely benefit me.
Farmers' market vendor Ron Jepson, owner of Jepson's Fresh Meats, agrees that, in general, a downtown grocery store is good for downtown businesses, including his own.
"In the '80s, when there were grocery stores down here, business was booming," said Jepson, whose family has sold meat at the farmers' market since the 1920s.
"If they bring more people to this part of the city, it will definitely benefit me."
As for Ng, she said that even if Nations Fresh Foods cuts into her business in the short-term, traffic at the farmers' market would eventually return to normal.
"Quality and service is what people come here for. And there is a lot of that here."
With files from Julia Chapman