Newly remodeled Albertsons will be a ‘taste of the future’

Albertsons Store Manager Bob Agostinelli (right) and Sushi Chef Mia Feil (left) point to the new sushi bar, part of the enlarged new fresh food service area in the remodeled store.

Photos by Deb Hill

Albertsons Store Manager Bob Agostinelli holds a tray of freshly prepared sushi Monday morning.

Albertsons Manager Bob Agostinelli sits in his small office, surrounded by paperwork, computer equipment and ringing phones.

But that’s not what he’s seeing. In his mind, Agostinelli is picturing the store as it will be in March, when five months of remodeling is finally completed.

“This is going to be the finest supermarket in Montana,” he said. “It’s going to provide a renewed shopping experience and a taste of the future for shoppers. ”

While Agostinelli has seen previous store makeovers during his 19 years with Albertsons, none have been as large or involved as this one.

“There’s hardly anything that will be reused – nearly everything will be new,” he said. “The store will be classified as a ‘Premium Fresh Store,’ which means we will carry more natural, organic, non-GMO foods. We are shrinking the canned goods and enlarging the fresh foods areas. The produce, meat, floral, service deli, dairy, bakery and pharmacy areas will be bigger, with more choices.”

Agostinelli said the expansion and focus on fresh foods comes out of shopping trends showing consumer preferences are changing.

“We are using some forward thinking ideas, aiming at two groups in particular,” Agostinelli said. “It’s the baby boomers and the millennials – they are surprisingly similar in how they shop, and this remodel will be one they appreciate. We’re trying to meet the changing expectations of shoppers.”

The five-month-long process has involved some construction, as the store was expanded slightly, as well as a great deal of moving. New shelving and new coolers have been installed, with more still to come. The moving of products is carefully staged to match the construction progress and installation of new displays.

“We are through the worst part now,” Agostinelli said. “I really have to thank the community for tolerating the process. I think people will agree it’s been worth it when they see the finished result.”

In particular Agostinelli is excited to tell shoppers about what will be new to the Lewistown store.

“There will be a ‘wings’ bar and a soup bar,” he said. “There will also be a sushi bar – it’s already open. We have two Japanese sushi chefs here to make sushi for us. There are so many former military people here, and many of us love our sushi.”

To illustrate, Agostinelli sampled a sushi plate, which he referred to as “his breakfast,” while the interview continued.

The Lewistown remodel, he said, is just the latest in planned updates.

“When Cerberus Capital purchased all of the Albertsons, they went on an aggressive remodel campaign. They started in Idaho and last year they did most of western Montana. Now they are doing Billings and it was time for this one.”

Grocery stores, Agostinelli said, must be updated at least every 10 years or so.

“If you don’t do that, you’re going to run into some issues, especially with the refrigeration units,” he explained. “We don’t want health issues with the food. Also codes change and we need to keep up with them.”

The newly remodeled Lewistown store will include two main entrances, rather than just one, with carts at both, along with additional handicapped parking and an additional restroom. There will be more handicap carts, including something called a Caroline Cart, which allows for an older disabled child or disabled adult to ride in the cart.

Expansion of the deli and other fresh food sections and the addition of two new check stands has led to hiring of additional employees, but Agostinelli is quick to point out that prices will not go up to pay for the cost.

“Prices are set by supply and demand,” he said.

While experiencing a few problems – freezer cases that froze too well, furnaces not functioning properly, an aisle that tipped over spewing soft drinks everywhere, and uncooperative weather—Agostinelli said he is adapting to the changes. He hopes shoppers are, also.

“I know this hasn’t been easy for our customers,” he said. “I hope when it’s all over, shoppers will feel it was worth it.”

Agostinelli said he pitched the concept of a major remodel to the corporate office three years ago.

“I told them, ‘This is a good store in a good community. The community deserves it,’” he said, adding, “The president of this division, then, had a vision for this store, and another division president approved the funding, which was the most allocated for a remodel of all the stores in Montana.”

Agostinelli is looking forward to March 21, which is the planned date for the grand opening. The event will include a ribbon cutting, visits from Albertsons’ corporate and divisional officials and give-aways.

“This store will be the best of Safeway and Albertsons combined,” Agostinelli said.

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