State's first Big Y getting new look in time for summer

By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Stafford - posted Thu., Mar. 17, 2011
Bob Farrell, director of the Stafford Springs Big Y, points out changes that the floral department will undergo before the store's renovation project is complete. Photos by Lauri Voter.
Bob Farrell, director of the Stafford Springs Big Y, points out changes that the floral department will undergo before the store's renovation project is complete. Photos by Lauri Voter.

Many Stafford-area residents probably recall when the Stafford Big Y Supermarket first opened more than two decades ago - in June of 1984, to be exact. What some folks may not realize is that the Stafford Springs site was, in fact, the first Big Y opened in Connecticut.

Now more than 25 years old, the Stafford Big Y that pioneered the Connecticut path seems tired and outdated when compared to the modern facilities that recently opened in Tolland and Ellington. However, as many Stafford residents already know, Big Y Foods, Inc. - which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year - is in the process of making major renovations to its Stafford store. That facility is currently undergoing construction that will add 900 square feet to the building and give the site a whole new look. The upgrades are expected to be complete in time for the summer season.

According to Bob Farrell, director of the Stafford store, the incentive to upgrade is partly the result of many customers taking their business to the Tolland or Ellington locations.

“Folks have been coming in and inquiring. They say that they like shopping with us, but they have to cut their shopping short and finish it in Ellington or Tolland to get some of the offerings there that we don’t have,” said Farrell. He added that the idea behind updating the store is to “modernize it and bring it up to date, to add new departments that our customers have been seeking out and actually going to other stores to get.”

Farrell said that another goal is to bring to store up to “world-class status,” which he described as “food service offerings such as a pizza shop, food service department, fish n’ chips, fried chicken - things that we didn’t have before.” A coffee shop and single-serving desserts will be available. One of the biggest alterations will be the addition of food court seating, so that customers can sit down to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner.

“We expect to have a lunch crowd. There is local business for that. We’re excited about it,” said Farrell.

According to Farrell, the seafood department will have its own impact by offering fish n’ chips. “I expect a real big draw with that,” he said.

Some customers may be expecting drawbacks, such as cost increases. However, Farrell does not anticipate any changes in pricing due to the upgrade. Further, Farrell said the store is currently hiring additional employees, which could be a boon to the local economy.

“We hope to add some more staff. We have added staff already. We are currently training the newer people. We’re reviewing applications right now,” offered Farrell.

Farrell said that customers and employees are all excited about the renovation, and customers have been particularly patient. In exchange, he said that customers can look forward to “a modern, brighter, newer facility that will enable us to offer world class items and world-class service.”

According to Farrell, “We have worked hard at keeping our employees engaged during the whole remodel process to be totally aware of what is going on, to be aware of what the customer’s needs are during this remodel, to be helpful in finding things. I’m proud of my employees. They are world-class employees. Everyone has bonded together during this remodel.”

Once the project is complete, the store will take on a whole new appearance.

New public restrooms will be installed near the pharmacy. New administrative offices and a customer service desk are being built behind the cash registers. The food court will be constructed where the offices and customer service area are currently located. The former bread aisle will become the pizza shop. A cheese bar will be installed in the dairy section.

Farrell emphasized that the Big Y will include “healthier options” and much more product variety, including more produce, organics and a gluten-free section.

As of March 14, work crews were finishing work on the last two main aisles, meaning that the center of the store is nearing completion. Permanent end displays are pending, but will add the finishing touch to the central aisles. Customers can already look for the new aisle markers.

Eventually, new cases will be installed in the meat and butcher area. The seafood department will extend past the deli.

A peek behind-the-scenes revealed that construction is underway to encase the new refrigeration and equipment that will be needed to support the seafood area.

“Produce and floral aisles are going to grow. The produce cases are so old. Everything’s going to be brand new,” said Farrell, as he pointed out the wear and tear in the old case.

The floral area will gain three refrigerated cases and a sink, and its work space will be expanded, enabling the floral department to service more special orders and cater to events.

The traffic entrance into the plaza will remain the same, while the appearance of the storefront has already begun to change. A new tower will flank the store's entrance and pillars will adorn the front of the building. A flagpole has been installed in the parking area.

“We’ve got a nice new flagpole. It’s going to be nice to have a big American flag, which we didn’t have before,” said Farrell.

Farrell appreciates the support and patience of Big Y customers. “They’ve been nothing but positive through the whole thing,” he said. “I’ve been in city stores in other places where people wouldn’t have been as understanding as these folks have been. I tip my hat to that - they’ve been wonderful through the whole process.”

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