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Chicago: the growth of the Gold Coast.

While many older urban centers have been revitalized by the return of the middle class, some cities have always boasted a sprinkling of affluent residents. In New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, the gentry never left.

Some supermarket companies in Chicago have built their business by serving people who have money and choose to live in the city instead of the suburbs. One of the most skilled at operating stores with appeal to the wealthy cosmopolitan resident is Treasure Island Foods, the operator of eight stores on the well-heeled North Side.

"Our stores are aimed at people who enjoy good food, who believe that eating well is part of the good life," says Christ Kamberos, president of Treasure Island Foods. "A high income is not that important, but the income they have should be directed toward buying good food."

Upscale supermarkets are not a new game plan for the Treasure Island chain. Kamberos opened his first store 21 years ago, when Ernie Banks was the star of the Chicago cubs. The first site was located in an ethnic neighborhood.

"Chicago has a beautiful mixture of ethnic groups," Kamberos says. Greek, Italian, French and Jewish people are all particularly appreciative of quality food, he says, and they patronize stores stocking a selection not found at chain supers.

Kamberos foresaw a trend that would sweep supermarketing almost two decades later. Throughout the past 20 years, the Treasure Island president has kept abreast of developments in the city, continually searching for neighborhoods where a Treasure Island store could be successful. His hometown merchant's knowledge of the city makes him aware of areas going through phases of redevelopment, where the meat and potatoes people are being replaced by those who prefer Brie cheese and veal scallopini.

"There has been a lot of renovation on the North Side of Chicago," Kamberos says. "People who work downtown, especially professional people with both husband and wife working, like to live near the office. They prefer the convenience and excitement of the city life to the peace and quiet of the suburbs.

"More and more people are becoming sophisticated about food. Consumers today expect better quality than they did five years ago because their palates have been improved by traveling and eating at restaurants. That has been good for our company because we have the buying contacts and the merchandising skill to fulfill the desire for higher quality food."

Kamberos can tell when a neighborhood is gentrifying by noticing the telltale signs: renovated buildings, young professionals on the street, and cafes and restaurants opening for evening business. He believes that watching the nightlife of a community is a good way to determine who is moving in. However, he keeps in mind that it takes fewer people to support a restaurant than a supermarket.

Kamberos says, "You need a lot of heads in order to profitably operate a supermarket. We are conservative businessmen in that we wait until a community is truly established before doing business there."

It took Kamberos seven years to find an appropriate site for the newest Treasure-Island, a 22,000-square-foot unit located at 666 North Lake Shore Drive. Only several blocks from the corporate headquarters located along Michigan Avenue, Wells Street and other nearby streets, the neighborhood around the new store is one of the wealthiest in Chicago.

"The community that our newest market serves has traditionally been ultra-affluent," says Kamberos. "It has recently become a little less affluent, but more densely populated, which is good for us. Young professionals moving into the area are not as wealthy as the established residents, but they do have a good deal of discretionary income. Many are well-educated and traveled, and spend part of their extra money on good food."

The Treasure Island store is tailored to fit the needs of young, affluent professionals who have money, but not much time. The deli is highlighted even more at the new store than in other Treasure Islands. Along with offering a complete selection of cheese and sandwich meats, the deli also prepares sandwiches and selected hot food for people to take out and eat immediately.

The store has a tremendous array of international foods, displayed on metal racks that sit along the first aisle that shoppers pass when they enter the store. Arranged by cultural regions, with Mexican in one section, Greek in another, Middle Eastern in a third, and so on, the department may boast the most extensive selection of international foods of any supermarket in the country.

Other Chicago operators have also targeted wealthy communities for the places where they prefer to do business. One of the most successful is Tower Markets Ltd., which bills its stores as "serving Chicago's skyline."

Founded in 1975 by Phil Sansone and Jack Smith, two former Jewel managers, Tower Markets operates four stores on the North Side of Chicago. Their first market was the Lake Point Market, which sits within 10 blocks of the new Treasure Island store. Formerly a Jewel, the 9,600-square-foot store was abandoned by the chain almost 10 years ago, and has been operated as an independent market ever since.

Lake Point Towers is one of a handful of buildings that sits on the lake side of Lake Shore Drive, and is one of the most prestigious addresses in Chicago. Condominiums in the building start at about $400,000, according to a local realtor.

In the store, one can immediately see that it aims for upscale consumers. The magazine rack holds titles such as Fortune and Gourmet instead of the National Enquirer and TV Guide. All beef in the well-type cases that line the right wall is prime. A butcher is always watching the case, and willingly prepares any special requests. Lake Point Market even has a pharmacy on premise, so building residents can satisfy their medical as well as their food needs without leaving the building. A selection of liquor and wine is displayed near the front end and the wine does extremely well.

While Jewel, Dominick's and other chains that dominate the Chicago market have made attempts to satisfy the people that enjoy the good life within the Windy City, the independents have truly shown that they have the skills to service this demographic segment.
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Title Annotation:upscale supermarkets
Author:Tanner, Ronald
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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