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TOUR: The Fresh Grocer - East Germantown, Philadelphia, PA

The Fresh Grocer of LaSalle
Owner: Pat Burns
Opened: 2009
Previous Tenants: none
Cooperative: Wakefern Food Corp.
Location: 5301 Chew Ave, East Germantown, Philadelphia, PA
Photographed: July 2021
Welcome to our first Pennsylvania Fresh Grocer! This almost exactly 50,000 square foot store was built as a new-construction in 2009 along with a small strip mall. We're in the East Germantown neighborhood but this store is referred to as The Fresh Grocer of LaSalle, given that the campus of LaSalle University is directly across the street. (Some supermarket fans online have speculated that these days, Wakefern uses The Fresh Grocer mostly in areas of Philadelphia near colleges. That's certainly possible, though the specificity of the brand is diluted by the addition of Nicholas Markets stores in northern NJ and the Gerrity's stores in NEPA.)
This is the first (and only) Burns-owned Fresh Grocer I've photographed. The Burns family started The Fresh Grocer somewhere around 20 years ago, and were a member of Great Valu Markets until they joined Wakefern in 2013. Today, Burns is one of four Fresh Grocer owners, with the others being Brown's in Philadelphia, Nicholas in northern New Jersey, and Gerrity's in progress in the Wyoming Valley of PA. It's worth noting that Brown's and Nicholas use The Fresh Grocer banner as a higher-end format, but Burns positions it as a pretty mainstream store.
That said, it's a very beautiful store. We enter to the grand aisle, with produce on the left side and prepared foods, deli, and bakery on the right. Meat and seafood are on the back wall, dairy is in the last aisle, and frozen is in the front left corner. It's a pretty standard layout.
What surprised me, though, is that although the store is quite large, the selection (especially in perishables) is weirdly small. I remember counting just four types of loose apples and two types of loose pears -- the basics -- which might be what we expect in a 10,000 square foot urban CTown or something, but in a 50,000 square foot Wakefern affiliate? That was quite a surprise. There were a few other examples of very limited selection like that around the store.
These produce bins are new, and it looks like they've pretty significantly cut back the produce department since the store opened. (See this picture from the opening, from this photoset.)
We can see some other signs of cutbacks here in the store. Notice this department sign, towards the front where the beer/wine and cafe area is. The second half is missing (each department says fresh and then a verb or other descriptive word, like fresh baked, fresh made, etc). My guess is it used to be something that's no longer here.
The rest of the prepared foods counter extends down the front part of this wall. The prepared foods looked very nice (especially the Asian food bar, which appears to be an outside vendor). But The Fresh Grocer in Philadelphia is known for its hoagies, so of course I had to try one...
...and I was sorely disappointed. I got a pretty standard Italian sandwich, which was good enough but not amazing -- but took over 45 minutes to make. There was barely a line and it wasn't a complicated sandwich. Three people behind the counter but mostly doing everything but making sandwiches or helping the customers who were actually there. They were doing things like preparing the packaged foods -- which isn't going to help when there's a line of customers waiting but not being helped. That's just bad management.
Deli is up next, and again we see signs of a cutback -- this time, pretty obvious (look at the case around the Dietz & Watson cold cuts -- it's all empty). But the decor is quite nice and I really do like the bright, bold backsplashes on the departments. The wall decor is subtle enough that the backsplash looks really good.
Bakery and seafood are in the back corner. It's a pretty small bakery, as we see, and missing some of the usual things like a bread case and the self-serve rolls, so maybe that's also a sign of a perishables cutback.
But seafood seemed fully stocked and the meat department was also full of selections so maybe it's limited to just a few departments that aren't doing so well.
Speaking of that, here's another department I forgot about -- the coffee shop, which used to be straight ahead next to the entrance, where you can see the cup on the wall. That has also been removed.
One more overview of the grand aisle before we move on. This is taken from the front entrance, so this would be roughly what you see when you first walk in.
HABA is in the first two aisles. There's no pharmacy department here. Not sure if any of the Fresh Grocers have one.
And as we see, there's another aisle between the meat department and the grocery aisles at the back.
On the other side of the meat cases below is the bottled water shelving above.
As frequently happens, the decor becomes significantly less remarkable once we get out of the grand aisle (although I do like the aisle markers). Dairy is here in the back left corner.
Before we finish up the perimeter, let's check out the grocery aisles.
I would say there was a larger selection of international items here than in a standard chain supermarket, but probably roughly the same as what you'd find in a ShopRite.
Maintenance is clearly better in the grocery aisles, although there's less to maintain. The selection is better, too.
Dairy is in aisle 12, the last aisle.
Looking across back to the grand aisle on the right side of the store.
And like the ShopRite we saw just recently in Olney, the frozen food department is in the front corner of the store. This one's frozen department extends part of the way up the last aisle too...
There are three short frozen aisles in the front, rather than the ShopRite's two longer aisles.
As we see, the front end is also very nice, with custom lane markers that match the decor (although I'm not sure about "fresh service" on the front wall...). This is definitely a beautiful store but it's really noticeable how much it's been cut back -- and that at least certain departments are being run very poorly.
That's all for this Fresh Grocer, and up next we're headed into the main business district of Germantown for a look at three stores there. Head over to The Independent Edition tomorrow to see the largest!