To market, to market…but to which one?

How many grocery stores can a city the size of Petaluma support?

I’m wondering if the recent addition of Raley’s has put more stores ““ and specifically supermarkets ““ in Petaluma than the economy and size of population can support.

Generally at about 5 p.m., grocery stores are hopping with moms and dads on their way home from work trying to come up with a better option for dinner than Lucky Charms. Yet when I’ve been in Raley’s at this time of day, the small number of shoppers makes it feel more like 5:00 in the morning.

I certainly don’t say this with any malice toward Raley’s. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s a beautiful store, the shelves are fully stocked and the prices are comparable to Safeway and Lucky. And a big motivator for facing the drudgery of grocery shopping when you’re tired and hungry; Raley’s almost always has something yummy to sample. Last time I shopped, there were little cups with small slices of white cake. I had two.

And I shared with several people the wonderful experience I had with their pharmacy ““ the pharmacist did some research about a generic version of a prescription for my daughter which ended up saving me more than $160. Plus I got a $25 gift card for bringing in a new prescription.

It’s just that Petaluma already has two Lucky stores, a Safeway, a G&G, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Petaluma Market. And now a Raley’s.

Steve is the major breadwinner in our household but I’m the sole bread-buyer, so I love having options and I shop at all of them. There are certain items I can only get at Trader Joe’s (Milton’s 100% Whole Wheat bread) and Whole Foods (Almond Brownie Balance bars) so those stores will always be part of my grocery shopping mix.

But when it comes to which supermarket I shop at for the basics like cereal, chicken, baking items, yogurt, and paper goods really depends on which store  ““ Safeway, Lucky, Raley’s, or G&G ““ has the best price or makes me the best offer. I’ve gotten $10 off coupons from both Safeway and Raley’s and last time I was at Raley’s, the register spit out another “$5 Off on my next shopping visit” coupon.

In this economy, the grocery business seems especially cutthroat. How much are they willing to cut prices or hand out coupons to get me in the door? But I’m not complaining; I sure don’t mind saving a few dollars.

I realize it can take some time for people to change their shopping habits and become accustomed to an unfamiliar store. I sincerely hope that is the reason for the sparse number of customers in Raley’s. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the lack of crowds when I shop there.

And if Raley’s becomes more integrated in the community and gets busier ““ which I certainly hope happens even if it means longer lines at checkout ““ I won’t mind; we want businesses to come to Petaluma and thrive.

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