EAU CLAIRE — Chippewa Valley shoppers will find much more than just groceries when they visit the Hy-Vee supermarket that opens today in Eau Claire.
The 92,000-square-foot store, built on the site of a Kmart that closed six years ago at 2424 E. Clairemont Ave., is the second of Hy-Vee’s 286 locations in eight Midwestern states to follow what the Iowa-based retailer calls an “entirely reimagined grocery store” concept.
That means the store goes beyond grocery staples to include a food hall, restaurant and pub, walk-in humidor for cigars, DSW shoe outlet, W Nail Bar nail salon, Starbucks coffee shop, Candy Shoppe with a giant gumball machine, pharmacy with drive-up window, Bellissima health and beauty section and departments selling Joe Fresh clothing and Johnson Fitness & Wellness exercise equipment.
The store is also brimming with technology such as all-digital price labels on shelves, more than 100 TVs for marketing and digital kiosks where customers can take a hearing test or order customized cakes or fresh foods, including a salad served up in about 30 seconds. Customers even can use a new Hy-Vee Scan & Go payment technology to check out through their mobile phones.
“It’s just really optimizing the shopping experience and using it to help people as they go through the store,” Hy-Vee Chairman and CEO Randy Edeker said of the technology infused throughout the building.
The tech enables customers to choose how much interaction they want to have with other shoppers and employees as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, said Tina Potthoff, Hy-Vee’s senior vice president of communications.
The Eau Claire store, which opens to the public at 6 a.m. today, will greet shoppers and a tour by Gov. Tony Evers with stacks of colorful pumpkins and mums outside the front doors. It will be open from 5 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and will carry about 100,000 items.
The location also has an accompanying Hy-Vee Fast & Fresh convenience store in the parking lot that opened in May.
“We’re really excited to be in Eau Claire,” Potthoff said during a media tour of the new store on Monday.
The first Hy-Vee adopting the company’s latest prototype opened two weeks ago in Grimes, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines.
Edeker said Eau Claire was chosen as the second store to follow the new concept because it was the next one up.
“It’s a natural progression as we work this way,” he said, hinting that announcements of more Wisconsin locations will be forthcoming. The company currently operates three other stores in Wisconsin, two in Madison and one in Fitchburg.
While Edeker mentioned Woodman’s Markets and Festival Foods as quality grocers established in a competitive Chippewa Valley market, he expressed confidence that Hy-Vee will win over its share of customers with its unique offerings and cutting-edge concepts.
“I think we do a good job of studying what customers are into and moving there before they want us to so that we’re there and waiting for them to get there with us,” Edeker said.
The Eau Claire store successfully hired 150 full-time and 350 part-time workers without much difficulty despite the widely reported labor shortage, Potthoff said.
In an effort to satisfy Chippewa Valley customers and support the local economy, Hy-Vee officials ensured the Eau Claire location would carry a number of items from local producers as well as clothing items endorsing the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers, UW-Eau Claire Blugolds, North Huskies, Memorial Old Abes and Regis Ramblers.
The sit-down restaurant/pub also has large brick fireplace emblazoned with the words “Eau Claire, Wisconsin.”
The food hall, designed to look like a streetscape with a variety of restaurant fronts, offers a number of fast-casual dining options that can be carried out or eaten at tables and counters on the south end of the store. The eateries include Long Island Deli, Wahlburgers at Hy-Vee, Mia Italian, Nori Sushi, Market Grille Express and HyChi, which serves up Thai, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese entrees.
“We wanted to make it a place where people could just hang out if they want,” Potthoff said.
In the expansive bakery, cake decorators will put their skills on display in a booth equipped with a microphone and speaker for public demonstrations. The bakers sometimes will show techniques highlighted on “Cake this,” one of a number of Hy-Vee shows streamed on HSTV.com.
The liquor department, which includes a walk-in beer cooler, wine room and humidor, carries items with price tags ranging from $1 for individual servings of booze to $4,000 bottles of fine spirits for what Potthoff described as “that extra special occasion.”
“We try to create islands of interest — sections and departments that will just slow people down,” Edeker said.
Hy-Vee, with annual sales of $11 billion, is an employee-owned corporation that shares its profits with its 86,000 employees.