BEDFORD - Jennie Churbuck's shopping cart was full when she stopped for one last purchase of hanging plants outside the new Market Basket Thursday.
"I spent $150 on all this," she said. "At any other store this would easily have cost me $200." The Bedford mom said she and other moms from Bedford were "ecstatic" about the new supermarket opening just minutes away from their neighborhood.
"This is all we've been talking about for weeks," she said. "You can't beat the location. Right off the highway - it's great."
It was three years ago when Demoulas, Market Basket's parent company, first applied to the planning board to open its 78,500-square-foot store near the intersection of Donald Street and Route 114.
At the grand opening yesterday, customers began filling the 500-space parking lot at 6 a.m., one hour before the doors opened for business, said Market Basket spokesman David McLean.
The Bedford store is the 30th Market Basket in New Hampshire and one more sign that Demoulas appears to be expanding its reach while many of its competitors retrench. "There are a few reasons why we've had success," said McLean. "Our customers, our employees and our great leadership are all part of it. Arthur Demoulas (president) has made a commitment to build our brand, and he takes care of the employees just as he has the customers."
According to the industry trade publication, Supermarket News, the Tewksbury, Mass.-based Market Basket "has been on a brisk expansion pace" that included the building of a 107,000-square-foot store in Biddeford, Maine, that state's first Market Basket and its largest grocery store. Demoulas currently operates 70 Market Baskets in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
The Bedford store is considered to be a mid-sized operation by modern industry standards, McLean said. The store has hired 300 new employees and has more than 60,000 different products on its shelves.
"What I like about Market Basket is that they don't sell obscure products," said Karin Elmer of Merrimack. "One of the silly things my husband laughs at me about is that I have to have my favorite product in the size that I like. If you go to one of these other places, they have these obscure sizes that just don't work for me."
Elmer said what also works for her are the prices at Market Basket. "They're great," she said. "I can really stretch my dollar here."
Bill Ingalls of Dunbarton said he'll be shopping regularly at the Donald Street location because it's on his way home from his job in Bedford. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I already shop at the Hooksett store, but I'll be shopping here quite a bit from now on."
Today's grand opening marked the end of a process that was threatened by legal action brought by competitor Hannaford Brothers, which sued the Bedford Zoning Board in an effort to block construction of the Donald Street store, alleging the board improperly granted Demoulas a variance to build it 78,500-square-foot building, which sits on the site of the former Golfland miniature golf course and Slammer Sports Bar and Grill.
Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that Hannaford Bros. wasn't eligible to challenge a variance that allowed Demoulas to build a store larger than what previous zoning there allowed. Hannaford has also sued Bedford over a town meeting vote that changed the Donald Street parcel from mixed use to commercial 2, which effectively eliminated the footprint restrictions. That case is scheduled for trial in July.
By mid-morning yesterday, it was difficult to find an open parking space in the lot. Inside, customers flocked to aisles where deals were being offered - like the one that offered two jars of salsa with one of the jars costing only $1.
Ingalls said he's always been impressed by the service at the Market Baskets where he's shopped. "I think they do a good job of hiring good staff," he said. "None of them seem to be sad to be there."
That was an observation echoed by Cherbuck, the Bedford mom. "Everyone's super friendly here," she said. "They actually bring stuff to your car, which other supermarkets don't do. And that's important, especially if you have little kids with you."