Owners Brad Cross and Scott Weaver aim to transform Garfield Park/Fountain Square Safeway grocery store
‘New Item’ tags are scattered throughout the shelves of the Safeway grocery store at 2176 Shelby St., Indianapolis. It’s not only the number of items that has expanded, but the variety.
“Here, we’ve learned that we lacked a lot of items which we needed to carry,” said Brad Cross, co-owner. “That’s from the changes in the Fountain Square area. Millennials, their habits are a little different than my generation. The craft beers are fairly new but are a growing commodity. There’s a number of items we’ve added, like the organic milk, mainly healthy stuff. We’re trying to put the word out that anything people want us to carry, we can source it.”
As new owners, Cross and Scott Weaver are looking at ways to grow their stores and attracting the millennial generation is at the top of their list. The two purchased the five-store chain in November and have already begun implementing changes, planning a remodel and physical improvements. Utilizing their individual strengths, Cross oversees day-to-day operations while Weaver specializes on the financial side.
Cross is originally from Kokomo, Ind., growing up with relatives on each side of his family in the grocery business dating back to the Great Depression. His uncle used to own a huckster wagon, hauling a truck to the farmers to sell food. Eventually he opened his own grocery store where Cross said at which he enjoyed visiting during school breaks and later working. At 16, he got a job at a large grocery chain. After graduating from Indiana University, he went straight to work for that grocery chain and entered into management training.
“By that time, I decided I wanted to own my own grocery store,” Cross said. “The only thing I have ever done is work at a grocery.”
After six years, he switched to work for his uncle as a store manager to learn the independent side to the grocery business. Six years later, he went to work for another locally-owned grocery chain. With 26 years at that business, he became a partner. But when the original owner passed away, he started looking for work again. The men who owned Safeway offered him a job and two years later he found himself in the position to purchase the business.
“I knew it was a good investment,” Cross said. “This is a union shop. We provide (employees) with a pension, very good insurance. They are appreciative of it. They are the ones who have built the company. Over 20 people have been here 30 years or more. They’re very loyal and appreciative.”
Weaver, on the other hand never imagined getting into the grocery industry. Having grown up in Indianapolis, he graduated from Greenwood Community High School, Ball State University and spent 15 years in state and local tax consulting. He was a partner in an accounting firm, leaving to become a partner in a boutique venture capital fund. In 2010, they purchased Grocers Supply, an independent grocery wholesale company. While running Grocers Supply, he met Cross.
In 2014, Weaver and another man started Heartland Markets. They purchased their first grocery store in Greentown, Indiana in April 2014. In 2015, they bought out another four-store chain out of Lafayette. In 2016, he sold Grocers Supply.
“It wan’t 30 days after I sold Grocers Supply that Brad contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in becoming his business partner in the Safeway grocery store chain,” Weaver said.
Their stores include the Shelby Street location, at the 30th and Kessler, 56th and Illinois, 24th and Sherman and 16th and Emerson intersections. The company’s headquarters is on the Southside, next to its store.
“Our store at 56th and Illinois we will be remodeling in the second quarter of this year, “ Weaver said. “We will add free wifi for customers. We will put in outdoor seating. We hope to do that at all of our locations and make it more of a destination. Everyone I talk to says the only way to get millennials into a business is to make it a destination.”
The Shelby Street store doesn’t have space for outside seating, however, Weaver said they’re considering putting seating inside with a coffee shop and more grab-and-go, pre-made food.
“Right now, it’s still in the learning phase,” Cross said.
They have not only taken input from the employees, but have worked with leaders in the city to see what is needed in the areas their stores serve.
“That’s the one thing I would stress is, people that live in the neighborhoods where our stores are, talk to our managers,” Weaver said. “If we don’t have what you’re looking for, tell us. We want to sell what people want us to carry. I think you’ll see more of that. We carried no organic everything until we purchased the stores last year. Our Shelby Street store, since we put in the organic produce, it’s selling. We put kale in. People said there is no way anyone will buy kale. It took three weeks and we’re selling it. It just takes time.”
The next step is to begin signing customers up for digital communications. That communication can be tailored to sales at each store, letting everyone know about special deals and more.
“If they haven’t been into a Safeway in awhile, come back in and shop us,” Weaver said. “Remember that we’re local. We’re independent. We listen to our shoppers.”
Finding fresh food in South Indy
The United States Department of Agriculture lists a large portion of the Southside of Indianapolis as a food dessert, an urban area in need of access to affordable or high-quality fresh food.
“Indianapolis is probably the most competitive retail grocery market in the United States,” said Scott Weaver, co-owner of Safeway which has a store at Shelby and Raymond Streets. “Statistics create an oxymoron, but it’s true. Not only is it the most competitive retail grocery market in the U.S. but it also has the highest number of food desserts in the U.S. when it comes to the number of people per capita in an area.”
It’s an issue the South Indy Quality of Life Plan, presented in December, is looking to address. The plan is divided into seven teams. One of the four main focuses of the Health and Wellness Action Team is making food more accessible, affordable and locally sourced.
“We have a lot of problems with accessibility,” said Amie Wojtyna, health and wellness team co-chair. “We have major thoroughfares in this area. There is no built in infrastructure – there are no sidewalks. So even if there’s a grocery store in walking distance, you can’t get there safely. You have to be on a road. It’s not conducive going to a grocery store.”
Wojtyna said the team has several strategies to improve healthy food accessibility in the area, which include reviewing the types of foods grocery stores carry which are needed or desired by residents, cultivating relationships and programs to have more urban farming and community gardens, and finding ways to support food pantries. For these programs to succeed, there also needs to be an education component, teaching how urban farming works, or simply how to cook some of these fresh food items. Currently, the team is collecting data to aid in executing this plan.
The next health and wellness team meeting is April 5, 5:30 at Raymond F Branes School 65, 4065 Asbury St, Indianapolis, IN 46227.