Amanda Weisbrod

The grocery store at the corner of Fourth Street and Adams Avenue in La Grande has opened its automatic doors again, but this time, a new management team promises a community-centric approach.

Market Place Fresh Foods will hold its grand opening on May 15, but the store has been serving customers since May 3. The grand opening event will feature an outdoor barbecue with Oregon Country Beef and a few other surprises, according to Lisa Snyder, marketing director for the grocery store.

The original opening date was set for March 1, but Snyder said that was only a goal, and the new management team wanted to take its time to consider community input before launching the project.

“We wanted to do this right,” she said. “You don’t ever have a second chance at a first impression.”

Snyder said the store has undergone significant rebranding since it changed hands in May of 2018, and she wanted the community to know it’s a completely different shopping experience than what Market Place Family Foods had to offer.

“Everyone assumes we’re just re-opening the store that was here before,” she said. “(But) we have a different management team and a new philosophy. I have zero doubt in my mind that they are going to make this successful.”

The marketing director said the core philosophies of the new store include providing what the community originally asked for, making a positive impact on the community by partnering with surrounding local businesses, and being a “destination” for shoppers, students and anyone who wants to stop by.

“We’re striving to make life convenient and healthy for people,” Snyder said. “We want to be a place where people can congregate. It would be a shame to have all this space without people utilizing it.”

From receiving a controversial $500,000 loan from the Urban Renewal Agency in 2014 to its well-publicized closure in February 2018 due to bankruptcy after just 15 months in business, the short history of the corner grocery store has been a roller coaster — but the Market Place Fresh Foods management team is determined to put the past behind them and start anew.

While Al Adelsberger, the original and current developer of the project, still owns the building, Snyder said new co-owners, Marco Rennie and David Yount, have revamped the entire business. The pair also opened a community grocery store in Joseph on June 1, 2018, filling a gap that was created when the town’s own Family Foods closed due to the bankruptcy.

According to a press release, Rennie and Yount are striving “to provide a shopping experience that ‘not only enhances the health and well-being of the community, but reduces their stress levels by taking into account people’s busy schedules by offering meal solutions that are healthy and easy.’”

Rennie, who was involved with the operation of Market Place Family Foods, has a background in operating grocery stores, including Whole Foods Market, a major grocery store chain that specializes in natural and organic foods.

Yount, the marketing director for wholesaler Spokane Produce, won a major design award for My Fresh Basket, a small neighborhood grocery store in Spokane, Washington and one of his responsibilities with Market Place Fresh Foods was to redesign the store.

“The layout of the store wasn’t good at all,” Yount told The Observer in November. “That (design flaw) hindered it a little bit, (plus) what they were offering wasn’t unique enough, or enticing enough, to get people to come back.”

The new layout is open, clean and provides the most accessible shopping experience for customers, according to Snyder. The Chop Shop station offers to make meal prep easier by slicing and dicing produce however a customer would like at no extra charge. At the 4th Street Bistro corner of the store, shoppers can pick up ready-to-eat hot meals and ready-to-cook recipe bundles, or even order a glass of refreshing craft beer on tap at the bar.

Upstairs, a vast seating area spans from an indoor mezzanine out to the roof, which offers a view of the train depot and downtown La Grande. A “Brew Hiker” will even run up and down the stairs to deliver beer to customers sitting in the upper level, so there’s no need for visitors to make multiple trips down to the bar.

Snyder also said this area will soon have free WiFi access for anyone who wants to bring their devices to work or play, but it is especially tailored toward students of Eastern Oregon University.

“We’re going to livestream all EOU sporting events,” Snyder said, pointing to the TV mounted on the wall of the lower level mezzanine. She added that EOU coaches will be stopping by the store soon to deck out the upper floor in navy and gold EOU decorations.

“We wanted to consider the students because this is a convenient location for them,” Snyder said.

EOU freshman Patience Dudley mans the cash register at the store and said she’s had a great time working there so far.

“I heard it was going to be new and different and heard of the great new owners,” she said, adding that it’s been fairly busy at the corner grocery store since its soft opening on May 3. “I feel very appreciated and like I’m doing a great job.”

Market Place Fresh Foods will feature promotional pricing through the month of June as well as host several events where customers can meet local vendors face-to-face, according to Snyder. She said she wants the grocery store to be as welcoming as possible, and these events are one way to show the community Market Place Fresh Foods intends to do just that.

“You know when you feel like you need a glass of wine just to work up the courage to go to the grocery store? Instead of having the liquid courage to go, you can have a beer while you’re shopping here,” she said. “We want this to be a memorable customer experience. We want it to be some place where people look forward to coming to.”