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Creating form out of function: marrying style and products with an eye for the community aesthetic, Gelson's Market has transformed an odd shaped building into a food-shopping haven. (Equipment & Design).

It is a luxury in the supermarket business to build a new store completely from the ground up in a growing neighborhood. In this case, the operator, architects, merchandisers and design team are free to construct anything they want. Dreaming of Doric columns on the facade and a space age motif on the inside? Do it. Is it within budget and will draw customers? Build it.

Unfortunately, in the real world of store planning and design this scenario is an extremely rare occurrence. More often than not, landlords, architectural committees, zoning hoards and city planners muck up the process. Retailers often inherit bizarre-shaped buildings, many of which look like a cross between a barn and a bowling alley or human-sized rat maze, and have to turn them into functioning supermarkets.

These realities frustrate some retailers and inspire the creativity of others. One operator in the latter group is Encino, Calf.-based Gelson's Market. When the retailer decided to open a store in the newly redeveloped Pesao Colorado subdivision in Pasadena, Calif., it faced a number of problems. Chief among them was converting a boot-shaped mall structure into a grocery store. The developer's insistence that the store, especially the exterior, conform to the prevailing architectural style of the development--California Deco, which is predominant throughout most of Pasadena--was another hurdle. Gelson's usual bold, highly-styled store design had to adjust to these obstacles.

"They [Gelson's] like to build theatrical stores, kind of a stage set with big colors and large forms," says Mike Hopper, creative director of Eugene, Ore.-based King Design International (KDI), the firm that designed Gelson's Pasadena unit, as well as many of their other stores. However, California Deco, a Southern type of Deco, was able to incorporate Gelson's exuberant designs into the community's architectural style. According to Hopper, "The whole thing was gutted, and what we had to work with was just a bare concrete structure--no facade. We had to figure out a way to respond to that [boot] shape so that it didn't seem strange when people were shopping in it."

To make matters worse, the "boot" must have been made for a small foot because the ceilings in this store were fairly low, giving it even more of a strained feeling. "We had to do something with the ceiling first because we didn't have a high ceiling and there was a gym and an apartment house above us," says Gelson's President Bob Stiles. "We decided to do something on the ceiling that was graphic and would bring in color. It made the ceiling very interesting for customers when they walked into the store; they didn't just see a dark or light colored ceiling."

To solve the ceiling problem, KDI designed a series of floating planes suspended at different heights from the dark-colored ceiling, with many placed over merchandise cases. The floating canvas planes feature colorful murals and digital prints. Architecturally, the treatments are combined with a series of curved curtain walls and soffits to give shoppers the illusion that the ceiling space flows from the wider front of the store to the narrower back portion, without the feeling of tightness. The idea for the ceiling treatment was discovered by one of Gelson's senior executives who saw the design used in Japan.

"We quite frankly wanted to wow the customers when they walk in with how attractive the store was," says Stiles. "Second, we wanted to make them warm and comfortable by using all the colors."

The deco motif in this 26,000-square-foot store is a result of various colors and subtle decor elements, rather than large structural devices or fixtures. For instance, the predominant color pallet is cream, with many areas accented with rose or mauve. The perimeter departments are highlighted by a variety of colors, such as a vibrant blue in the seafood section and yellow in dairy.

Silver and gold, used separately and in combination, as well as bronze and other metals, perpetuate the California Deco motif. These metals are used on cases and other fixtures, on walls, columns and signage. For instance, over the wooded service counter hangs a circular metal sign with deco lettering that is dropped down from one of the floating planes. In front of the customer service counter is a small metal foot rail. The hanging metal sign and the foot rail combine to make the area appear more like a coffee bar for consumers than a customer service counter, giving it a less "official" look and feel.

At the end of the boot, Gelson's put in symmetrical curved curtain walls. "There was a department in each comer [seafood and dairy], so we were able to use large signs on curved soffits," says Hopper. "The curving really helped soften the turn into the top part of the boot. We did quite a few areas where we did low relief patterns on the walls and washed them with light to give a nice textured feel. We did this both to soften the angles and to draw the people back into that area."

Gelson's stores are lit almost exclusively with spotlights to emphasize featured items. The Pasadena store also features some up-lighting on the ceiling to allow shoppers to view the floating planes and ceiling murals. The center of the store has floors of solid colored ceramic tiles, while each of the perimeter departments features a different tile pattern.

Gelson's puts vertical digital graphics on the columns and the checkstands, as well as on the ceiling. This design effect highlights many of the architectural elements of the store. For example, vertical graphics are surrounded by a gold trim on the columns to give them the appearance of framed art prints.

"We think the decor is very important in what we try to do with our stores," says Stiles. "We try to get our customers to take personal ownership of the store. Therefore, if they see another one of our stores they feel like the one in their area is the best because it's different and fits into their community. The common thread running through all our stores isn't the decor or design, it's the products and services."
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Author:Litwak, David
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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