"We're a part of Montrose and we're here to stay," declared Michael Marino, store manager of the Kroger at 3300 Montrose. "No matter who else comes in," he added with a grin and a nod to the new H-E-B being built at Dunlavy and West Alabama, just down the street.
This Kroger, a part of the Montrose landscape since 1978, evolved to become known as "Disco Kroger" over the years -- a moniker, by the way, that was also shared by the Kroger in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood -- but the days of disco have been dead for a while. And the interior of Kroger reflected that: dimly lit under low ceilings, rather scruffy produce, meat and seafood departments unable to compete with the newer stores cropping up around Montrose.
This latest renovation -- the third in its history -- has changed all that. Ceilings have been blown up and out, light streaming in from brand new windows. Departments have been spruced up and greatly expanded. Aisles gleam with new signage and new products on the shelves. Aside from the front entrance, located where it's always been, the renovated store carries almost no trace of the Disco Kroger of old.
"We've never put a store through what we put this store through," said Marino, who guided the store through the massive renovation without ever closing it to the public. "Logistically speaking, you take a 39,000-square-foot store and try to move everything in the store -- it's a complete flip." The result is a 41,000-square-foot space that feels somehow even larger.
Standing next to him, a beaming Jeff Roberson, district manager for the area, added: "In addition to that, it's just a different store. You look at the product mixes we have available in the cheese shop, in the bistro, with the produce."
"The produce used to be from this wall to there," he gestured to an area which is now filled with frozen goods and dairy products. "It was small. Now we've expanded on the things that customers in this area want more of: fresh produce, organics, nutritional products."
To that end, the renovated store not only has a huge new produce department, but revamped deli, cheese, meat, seafood and bread departments as well as an expanded pharmacy and a tortilleria, the latter of which seems to be direct competition with H-E-B. The pharmacy provides everything from flu shots and cholesterol screenings to pet medications (no more calling 1-800-Pet-Meds, guys) and a strong prescription drug pricing model that offers $4 and $10 generics.
Walking around the renovated store yesterday, it was immediately apparent that the longtime employees are exceedingly proud of their new store. In every department, broad grins were followed up with offers of mini-tours and explanations of new products. The seafood manager proudly showed off his team and their glistening glass cases full of fish; the women at the tortilleria handed out freshly buttered tortillas to customers who seemed dazed by all the changes.
"There's definitely been a shift in attitude," said store manager Marino. "New decor, new facade. But one thing this store has always had was a sense of family, a sense of belonging, a sense of togetherness."
Even with all the renovations, Marino doesn't think that the spirit of Disco Kroger will change any time soon. "I still hear it a lot," he laughed.
"I don't think it's something that will go away. You still see customers refer to it affectionately as Disco Kroger. For as long as we've been here in the neighborhood, I just don't think that aura or mystique is going to go away any time soon. It's a new building, but..." Marino trailed off, as Roberson stepped in to finish his sentence.
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"It can be the sensational Disco Kroger!"
Take a photo tour of the renovated Kroger in our slideshow.