Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Ideal Minimall

Large supermarkets I don't really like, with the exception of Whole Foods - and even then there is much in the middle of the store (organic toilet paper and the like) that I have no use for.  I tend to shop daily now - life circumstances change fast, with kids doing this and that, so it is hard to plan long-term, and I don't particularly want to most of the time.

For a few years an idea has been bouncing around my head - the 'ideal minimall'.  It would have four separate stores as its core.  One would be a good butcher shop, with a knowledgeable butcher and a wide selection of meats - quality meats, meaning no hormones, antibiotics, etc.  Local organic meats would be ideal, but that's probably not practical.  I'd also like to be able to find the kinds of things that supermarkets no longer seem to carry, like bones for making stock, or the more unusual organs (for that occasional haggis craving).

Next to this would be a greengrocer, a thing so rare that the term seems to be falling out of use.  A place to get quality vegetables, run by a person who knows something about them.  I would add fruit to this store as well.

The third store would be a fish market.  We have some fish markets in the area, and given the proximity to the sea and the existence of a local fishing fleet, these are pretty good.  The selection can be limited in some, and in others the staff doesn't seem to know as much as it should.  One of my favorites was one in Waltham, MA (I don't remember the name) which seemed to have 3 or 4 people working at all times, had a large selection, and was a place one could buy things like fishheads or lobster bodies for stock and stew purposes.  Of course there has to be enough business to justify the stock size, and enough turnover to maintain quality, so this might be difficult.  One think I love about Whole Foods is their seafood, which seems to be of high quality at every store - so I'm sure it's doable.

The fourth store would be a bakery.  Supermarket bakeries seem to bake premade or preformulated mixtures - I'm sure it guarantees uniform quality, but that quality isn't very high.  One of my fond memories from childhood is walking into a (good) bakery, and smelling the buttery sweetness that seemed to hang in the air.  A good bakery should do the full range of baked goods, from breads to cakes and pastry. 

Of course all of these stores would be able to handle custom orders, and ought to have knowledgeable staff that could offer advice as necessary. 

There might be other stores as well - a liquor store (perhaps more focused on wine than hard liquors) would be a nice addition, and a cheese/dairy outlet would be a fine addition, particularly if the products were from local farms.  A coffeehouse at one end of the minimall might provide a nice gathering place as well.

One could drive in to such a minimall and stroll from store to store, assembling a dinner.  One would likely have to make occasional trips to supermarkets for soaps, napkins, etc., but I think this sort of minimall might be quite an attraction.  One way to do it would be to find an investor willing to put up the money to buy or build the physical infrastructure, then lease to the individual markets, perhaps also with some equity in those businesses as well.  Such a plan would have to cover the contingencies of a market failing, or key personal leaving, but that shouldn't be insurmountable. 

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