Stew Leonard Jr. had one word to describe opening day at his new market in Farmingdale: bombshell.
“We thought we’d get about 10,000 customers,” said the CEO of the Connecticut-based chain founded by Stew Leonard Sr. in 1969. “But we’re on track to do double that — we’ve already had more than 10,000 and it’s only 4 o’clock.”
The 60,000-square-foot-store officially opened in Airport Plaza at 8 a.m., but customers who started lining up hours before were invited in to start shopping as soon as the cashiers were ready.
Once they crossed the threshold, shoppers were greeted by Hank and Beau, the giant animatronic dogs dressed in Country Western gear who stood atop the coffee display, singing and picking out tunes on guitar and banjo. Hank and Beau are fixtures at Stew Leonard’s, whose other stores are in Norwalk, Danbury and Newington, Connecticut, and Yonkers, New York.
After the singing dogs, there was only one way to go: left. Unlike most supermarkets, Stew Leonard’s has a single one-way aisle (827 feet in Farmingdale) that snakes, IKEA-style, through the selling floor, from bakery to produce to dairy, meat, seafood, deli and prepared foods. The emphasis here is on fresh food, not shelf-stable grocery items.
Leonard said that for most of the day, the store was “wall to wall people.” By 11 a.m., those people had cleaned the seafood department out of 80 pounds of lobster salad. The doughnut machine could not fry quickly enough, chicken wings flew out of prepared-food case faster than cooks could replenish them. By 4 p.m., another thousand gallons of milk were on their way to Farmingdale from upstate.
Customers were taking in the entertainment as well as the merchandise: Above their heads, animatronic acrobats performed somersaults on swings suspended from the ceiling. (Sock Money swung over the bakery, a Star Wars storm trooper over meat, the Incredible Hulk in produce.) Stationary items hung precariously too — an upside-down cow in dairy, a huge shark in seafood. Lower down — precisely at kid level, were big buttons that, when pressed, prompted Clover the Cow to moo, Chiquita Banana to swivel her hips and sing.
Leonard said that this opening was of an order of magnitude greater than the store’s last one, in Newington, Connecticut in 2007. He also noted that Long Islanders had distinct preferences. “Broccoli rabe seems to be huge on the Island,” he said. “Also that vegetable spaghetti made with yellow and green squash.” The biggest shock was the scungilli salad. “We were shocked. We’ve never seen scungilli salad sell like that.”