Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm
Roundy’s CEO plans new concept stores
By Elizabeth Geldermann, SBT Reporter
Recognizing the upscale residential growth in downtown Milwaukee, Roundy’s Inc. president and chief executive officer Robert Mariano says the company plans to open new concept grocery stores downtown and in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
"I know there is a need," said Mariano, "I think the Van Buren store and the East Pointe store do a nice job in that area, but then if I look north and I look south, we need to address both areas."
The new downtown stores are not likely to be traditional Pick ‘n Save stores, but would instead operate with a concept unique to the demands and the space limitations of downtown, Mariano said.
"It would be something new. I’ve thought about what type of store fits in that Third Ward," Mariano said. "You’d almost need to go back to the future in terms of the 25-foot store front and almost do an old-fashioned grocery store."
When Mariano was president and CEO of Dominick’s Finer Foods in Chicago, he developed a two-story Dominick’s near the DePaul University campus on a busy corner with no parking. He said his ideas for the bustling Third Ward might be similar to his approach in Chicago.
"People still need the basics, plus a nice bakery, nice prepared food, fresh fruits and vegetables," said Mariano. "I am not sure it will be a Pick (‘n Save), though. We need to look at doing something perhaps a little bit differently."
Downtown Milwaukee’s residency has jumped from 7,155 in 1990 to 11,100 in 2002 and 12,660 in 2003, according to Bill Zaferos, special assistant to the commissioner for the Milwaukee Department of City Development.
"The downtown population is booming, and that is one of the reasons the apartment buildings are growing," said Zaferos. "We would like to get a grocery store in the neighborhood and are confident something will eventually fall into place."
The downtown boom will continue when two luxury condominium towers are built along Prospect Avenue over the next two years. The 32-story University Club Tower will feature 54 condos, and the adjacent 33-story Kilbourn Tower will have 75 units.
Meanwhile, condominiums continue to sprout up in refurbished buildings in the Third Ward, where residents have long clamored for a neighborhood grocery store, according to Einar Tangen, president of the Third Ward Public Market and chairman of the Third Ward Business District.
The Third Ward Association added a convenient store out of desperation when it built the parking garage on Water Street and Chicago Avenue in 2000, Tangen said.
"We were aiming at trying to encourage residential development, but people were questioning where they could buy toilet paper and toothpaste. It would be nice to have a grocery store," Tangen said.
The Third Ward is the fastest-growing residential track of downtown, Tangen said.
Tangen said people want to live in the Third Ward for the convenience of downtown, and they don’t want to have to take their cars to go to the grocery store.
The development of urban grocery stores would signify another commitment to downtown Milwaukee for Roundy’s, which moved its corporate headquarters from Pewaukee to the 875 E. Wisconsin building earlier this year.
"I believe corporate leaders need to continue to build and support the infrastructure of urban areas," said Mariano. "If we don’t have cities, we do not have a strong fabric within our communities. And cities have infrastructure that future generations will never build the way they were built in prior generations."
Mariano recently established the Roundy’s Foundation, which presented its first grant of $25,000 to the Milwaukee Urban League.
The Roundy’s Foundation is one instrument Mariano will integrate in his quest to support the central city. Mariano said the foundation also complements Roundy’s store-level community programs.
The foundation will grant funds to local non-profit organizations concerned with hunger relief, community/family development and educational and training opportunities. The foundation’s annual grant gifts will total $300,000.
However, Mariano said the downtown store concept will need to be carefully thought out by his corporate team, which has undertaken several major challenges since he became CEO last year.
In addition to moving the headquarters, Roundy’s acquired 14 Kohl’s Food Stores, including seven in the Milwaukee area, and 30 Rainbow Food Stores in the Twin Cities. The company also recently announced it will move its distribution center from Wauwatosa to a new 1 million-square-foot complex to be built in the Pabst Farms development site in Oconomowoc.
"I don’t want to distract the team just yet, but certainly I have given it a fair amount of thought in terms of what we can do," said Mariano.
"I want to make sure we fully understand every market in the state of Wisconsin and that we make good decisions, we’ve invested in our stores, we’ve remodeled them," said Mariano. "We want to be willing to make the tough decisions, so in the long term, we want to have a wonderful facility for that community to shop in for the next generations. That’s the kind of business we’re in, and the kind of decisions I will make here. I am a grocer. I know enough about finance to be dangerous, but I am a grocer at heart."
Dec. 12, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee