Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kowalski's Market review - Grand Avenue location

Our neighborhood grocery, Kowalski's, recently underwent a transformation. It's going boutique. Some of this has been going on for a while. A year or two ago they had expanded the deli to include more hot foods. Then an olive bar and a Sushi guy. For a couple hours a day, he preps meal-size packages in his own little case between the deli and the butchers. Not a big fan of sushi myself, I do like to sneak in the show. This guy's knife-work puts most butchers to shame.

The newest changes are much more extensive: They re-did the decor and layout -- yanked their entire freezer section and rebuilt it in the middle of the store; ditched some staples and downsized the selection of others (who needs choice for toilet paper?); they added a manned cheese station and an artisan bread buffet thingy. The breads are good. Oh, and the prices? Did I fail to mention the prices? They really jacked up the prices. I know food prices are going up, but they really jacked up the prices. I couldn't find anything for a while, but I still like the store. I buy things like ground lamb. Things not available at Rainbow. But now, unless I am desperate for a dinner fix, I make a point of not buying something there if I can get it somewhere else.

I have only been to one other Kowalski's Market, a monster facility in Woodbury. The Woodbury location is about the size of a Walmart -- only it's all food. [That is not entirely true, there is a small Juut Salon and a small gift/flower shop there too, but you get the idea.] If you are looking for 100 different varieties of pickles or mustard or fresh Copper River sockeye salmon, you'll find it in their Woodbury store. One of the disappointments of the Grand Avenue location is that the store just isn't that big. They've expanded an already excellent selection of spendy crackers to put a $41/lbs Roquefort on. The store was doing well in that category, now it's over the top.

What happened to the balloons? A strong selling point for Kowalski's had been the neighborhood feel. Every kid was offered a balloon. If the deli wasn't too busy, a kid could score a cookie from the cookie club. I've learned the names of the clerks over the years, but I doubt that will continue.

Grand Avenue's Kowalski's Market also expanded their gifts selection. In addition to the side room to the left after you enter, scattered about the store are displays of special occasion plates, faux antique clocks, bizarre wooden antelope sculptures and other well, junk. Now the store is less convenient, less friendly and more expensive. Hadn't anyone ever told them, "if it ain't broke . . ."?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bring back the balloons!

It breaks my heart that I can't afford to shop there anymore. It was a place to spot St. Paul celebrities- Garrison Keillor, Norm Coleman and the Gov (good for some scowls) and a guy who looked a lot like George Latimer (because he IS!)

I am not grooving on this new economy of $4/gallon gas and designer grocery stores in my neighborhood. It is too far a fall for me to go from Kowalskis
to the mayhem of Midway.