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ALL IN ONE BASKET GROCERS ADD FULL-SERVICE BAKERS, FLORISTS.

Byline: Pam Park Staff Writer

Gloria Garcia of Granada Hills makes a trip to the recently remodeled Vons grocery store in her neighborhood every morning to buy the fresh bakery bread for her family.

Bob Weiss, a widower, frequents the new in-house Panda Express restaurant and the expanded deli section. He sings the praises of deli manager Ismael Medina, who Weiss says looks out for him by plainly marking an expiration date on the deli food he buys.

``Personal contact is very important. There's a personal touch here all the time. It's not just wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am,'' Weiss said.

Lesley McCarley likes the bright, clean look the store had after the renovation. ``You're buying your food here, you know.''

Service, convenience and atmosphere attracts and retains customers, grocers have found, so larger chains are renovating their stores at a rapid clip. While remodeling, grocers plan for such features as full-service bakeries, delis, meat and fish counters and floral departments. Some add banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners and even restaurants to make life easier for customers.

Analysts have said prepared food and services open up new profit centers for the stores as well.

Ralphs has completed three renovations in the San Fernando Valley so far this year and expects to complete three more this month.

``About 90 percent of our stores - Ralphs and Food 4 Less - are either new or have been remodeled in the last five years,'' said spokesman Terry O'Neil. ``We typically like to remodel our stores every five to seven years to keep them equipped with all the buzzes and bells that consumers expect in a supermarket.''

Today's customers want full-service departments, O'Neil said. Remodeling can make room to add new services and products, and it returns that ``new'' sparkle to a store.

``With so many people going through the supermarkets, they can get a lot of wear,'' he said. ``To keep up with the competition, you've got to keep your stores up.''

The competition is not just from other mega-chains.

Upscale markets such as Gelson's and Pavilions, ethnic and specialty food stores, and now Wal-Mart's food section can have an impact on a neighborhood chain store.

``Competition's tough . . . You have to constantly stay fresh and new. There's a supermarket on just about every corner,'' O'Neil said.

``We expect to attract customers from other places they are shopping - from competitors - after a remodel,'' O'Neil said. ``Once we have remodeled a market, it almost invariably performs better.''

Kevin Herglotz, director of public affairs for Vons, says their renovations are intended to offer more of a one-stop shopping service for busy customers. The company also installs the latest equipment - from cash registers to food preparation - to make shopping faster.

In addition to the typical bakery, deli, floral and meat departments, Vons has been adding banking, pharmacies, dry cleaners, restaurants and customer service centers where customers can make a copy or send a fax.

Vons tries to renovate or expand based on the demographics of the community and its needs and desires, Herglotz said.

Although figures on Valley renovations were not available, Vons has made major investments in the Los Angeles area in the last four or five years, Herglotz said.

From 1997 through 2000, Safeway Inc., Vons parent company, will spend $5.2 billion in capital investment companywide, he said. Los Angeles is a major market for Vons and Safeway, so a significant portion of the company's capital investment was spent here, he said.

For the same reasons as Ralphs and Vons, Albertson's tries to remodel its stores every 5 to 10 years.

``We want to keep the stores up-to-date,'' said spokeswoman Judy Decker.

While remodeling, Albertson's tries to expand if it's logistically possible, she said.

Albertson's plans to remodel two San Fernando Valley stores next year and five more in 2002, Decker said.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Ricardo Apaez, right, is a cake decorator in a newly refurbished Vons store. Deli manager Ismael Medina, below, helps customer Bob Weiss at another remodeled Vons. More and more grocers are expanding into customer-oriented services such as delicatessens, bakeries and florists.

(3 -- color) Florists such as Liz Johnson at this newly refurbished Vons are part of an industrywide trend of providing more services.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 6, 2000
Words:706
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