NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Aldi discount supermarket chain will open its fifth Rhode Island store in Dowling Village, town officials say.
Although Walmart negotiated lease covenants with the developer of Dowling Village designed to reduce the likelihood of competition for discount food, the new Aldi will be located next door to Walmart and apparently go toe-to-toe with the retail giant on groceries, said Town Planner Robert Ericson.
Aldi’s standard footprint is about 19,000 square feet, said Ericson, but the Dowling Village store will be slightly smaller to avoid conflicts with the conditions of Walmart’s lease agreements.
“Wal-Mart came to Dowling Village only on condition that no other food merchandisers with stores larger than 15,000 square feet would be allowed in the retail center,” said Ericson. “Aldi can do that easily.”
Aldi stores may be smaller than most supermarkets, but it would be a mistake to cast the Aldi-versus-Walmart matchup as a David and Goliath contest. They’re both corporate behemoths.
Headquartered in Germany, Aldi is a global food merchandising chain, with more than 9,200 stores in 17 countries. About a thousand stores are located in the U.S., where it’s been doing business since 1976. Karl Albrecht, one of two brothers who founded the chain, is said to be the wealthiest man in Germany, worth close to $20 billion.
There are four Aldi supermarkets within 15 miles of Park Square, including two in Cranston, one in Providence and another in East Providence. The closest Aldi is actually not in Rhode Island, but Milford, Mass., about 10 miles away.
Size is only one feature in which Aldi is different than most supermarkets in the area. Shoppers won’t find any major brands on the shelves, either. The store only carries “select” brands that are produced and packaged exclusively for Aldi stores, similar to the “Great Value” label shoppers will find at Walmart. Like other full-line supermarkets, however, there’s a complete mix of fresh produce, dairy, frozen foods and packaged goods in an Aldi store.
Aldi says it tries to keep store overhead to a minimum so it can keep prices low. The company charges a small fee for shopping bags, although customers can bring their own. It takes a quarter to free up a locked shopping cart, but shoppers get it back when they return the cart after leaving the store. Only cash, debit cards and electronic banking cards are accepted forms payment – no credit cards allowed.
“Everything we do, from selecting suppliers to scouting locations to building and operating stores, facilitates big savings for you every time you shop,” the company’s web site says. “When you shop at ALDI, you pay for food, not frills.”
Ericson says he shops at Aldi in Providence regularly and enjoys the experience.
“There’s a nice flow inside. You can pretty much see everything in the next aisle from the one you’re standing in,” he says. “There’s something about it that makes you feel safe.”
Despite the discount tag, the stores don’t have a discount feel, says Ericson. They’re clean and modern, the quality of the products stands up to the major brands and even the packaging is attractive.
A corporate official at the Aldi regional headquarters in Windsor, Conn. asked not to be identified yesterday, but the individual said the Dowling Village store would probably be open for business around March.
Aldi is the third confirmed tenant at Dowling Village, after Lowe’s and Walmart, which remains the only store that’s open for business. Lowe’s is on track to be finished by January, according to Ericson.
Much of North Smithfield’s commercial gain at Dowling Village – so far, anyway – appears to have come at the expense of neighboring Woonsocket. Walmart shuttered its Diamond Hill Road store in the city earlier this year shortly after opening the cavernous “supercenter” off Eddie Dowling Highway.
Questions remain about the future of Woonsocket’s Lowe’s. Although rumors are circulating that the Diamond Hill Road Lowe’s will continue to operate as a regional distribution center after the Dowling Village store opens, Woonsocket’s Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik says Lowe’s has not divulged any specifics to the city. Officials fear it, too, might close, leaving an even bigger retail void on Diamond Hill Road, once northern Rhode Island’s premier commercial strip.
But Woonsocket may soon be in a position to give Dowling Village some robust competition. Saxon Partners, a Plymouth, Mass.-based developer, has agreed to purchase the newly-leveled French Worsted site on Davison Avenue in Woonsocket from Henry Vara. The company is marketing nearly 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in five buildings on the 6.5-acre parcel, and it has hired the prominent MG Commercial real estate company to seek out tenants.
“Nothing firm yet, but we are negotiating with parties on two of the sites,” said Michael Giuttari, the company president.
Though no additional tenants have surfaced, Ericson says there is plenty of room for them. Plans for Dowling Village call for some 550,000 square feet of retail space spread across 30 acres.