When Teddy Houghton heads home after a 10-hour day at work, most evenings he stops by Rosemont Market’s Yarmouth store, which sits just 100 yards from his residence.

The store sells fish from Harbor Fish Market, which Houghton likes because it means he doesn’t have to drive to Portland to get the freshest seafood for dinner. It also stocks his favorite sauvignon blanc.

Joe Fournier outside of the space that will become A&C Grocery on Washington Avenue in Portland. Fournier hopes to open the market, named after his children, later this month. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“I stop there almost every night and I grab some fish,” said Houghton, who is a master electrician with ReVision Energy. “They also have good cheeses. And the people are so awesome. They’re wicked friendly and helpful.”

Upscale neighborhood grocery stores like the Yarmouth Rosemont offer modern shoppers a taste of nostalgia while at the same time giving them what they want – locally sourced, organic foods and gourmet specialty items that sell at a small premium. Customers can get in and out quickly, or linger as they chat with friends or quiz the staff about the sourcing of the chicken in their basket.

Rosemont Market, established in 2005 but now with five locations, was a local pioneer in this business model, along with Aurora Provisions, which has been around even longer. Then came places like The Farm Stand in South Portland (2014), Otherside Delicatessen in Portland (2015), and Bow Street Market in Freeport, which was founded in 1946 but expanded in 2011, its modern store, according to its website, “built on the memories of what food shopping used to be.”

Pete Sueltenfuss carries a pig from the cooler at Otherside Delicatessen, which opened in 2015. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Now the Portland area is experiencing another little growth spurt. In December, Andrew and Briana Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, opened Little Giant, an upscale market in Portland’s West End that will complement the restaurant they plan to open next door. Just a couple of weeks ago, Pete Sueltenfuss opened a second Otherside location in the West End. And Joe Fournier, who worked at Rosemont for six years before becoming a partner in The Farm Stand, plans to open his own neighborhood grocery, A&C, on Washington Avenue sometime next week.

Are we seeing a “hipsterization” of the traditional neighborhood market that sells six-packs and Maine Italians?

No, Fournier says. Rather, his new place represents a “rediscovery” of the neighborhood market, the kind he remembers being on every block when he was growing up on Munjoy Hill. Fournier considers John Naylor, one of the founders of the Rosemont markets, to be a mentor. That, combined with his past experience cooking in restaurant kitchens and his two-plus years at The Farm Stand, has shaped the philosophy he’ll follow at A&C (named after his children), which is located on the border between the Munjoy Hill and East Bayside neighborhoods.

A worker checks produce in a cooler at Rosemont Market & Bakery in Portland in a photo from 2014. Staff photo by Whitney Hayward

“I only want to sell food that I know the source of,” Fournier said. “I want to know as much as I can about the food that I’m selling.”

In addition to stocking groceries, he’ll have a full deli and selection of prepared foods.

SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS

Fournier is convinced that people are tired of the big-box retail environment and the stress that comes with shopping in such places, so he also wants A&C, with its smaller footprint, to be “a place for the community to come and rub shoulders and say hi to each other, and have a conversation about their lives – what they’re cooking for dinner, what they’re having for breakfast. I want part of the experience to be a social experience.”

Pete Sueltenfuss feels the same way about his two stores. He worked as a chef in several restaurants around town before opening the first Otherside in the old Quatrucci’s Variety.

Sueltenfuss notes that he and his staff are on a first-name basis with a lot of their customers, a “hospitality-forward approach” that appeals to him. “I really enjoy talking to people about how they’re going to cook their steak and why, rather than why they should like the way that I cook their steak for them,” he said.

His new place, located in the old Vaughan Street Variety, is, like the first, a combination butcher shop, deli and grocery, although Sueltenfuss is focusing a little more on prepared foods in the new store. Instead of selling customers local pork chops to take home and cook, for example, he’s stuffing a pork loin with sausage and spinach, then tying it up like a roast. All the customer need do is turn on the oven.

“We source most of our stuff from the state of Maine,” Sueltenfuss said. “We do all of our own butchering and processing.”

Peter Larkin agrees that many customers today are looking for more out of their neighborhood market than a 2-liter bottle of soda and a bag of Doritos. Larkin is president and CEO of the National Grocers Association in Arlington, Va., an organization that represents independent supermarkets, including neighborhood and specialty grocers. While he does not believe the growth of such markets is a huge trend just yet, “we couldn’t agree more that consumers are very much into knowing where their food comes from.”

And consumers have more choices than ever as to where they buy their locally sourced groceries, he said, whether it’s a bargain-priced big box retailer or the little corner store.

The size of grocery stores is getting smaller, Larkin added, and grocers are trying to provide experiences that make shopping feel less like weekly drudgery, citing independent stores in the Midwest that are serving brunch and churning their own butter.

“People are saying yes, we can provide a better, more intimate experience in a smaller footprint rather than trying to have every single possible size and shape of every mustard that was ever known to man,” Larkin said.

Produce, much of it organic, on display at Bow Street Market in Freeport in 2011. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

WHAT ABOUT PRICES?

Houghton, the Rosemont Market fan, can identify with that. In addition to the convenience of shopping right in his neighborhood, he likes avoiding the bright lights of the traditional supermarket “where you’ve got to walk six miles to find what you want and stay out of the middle of the store because that’s all the crap.”

And he doesn’t mind paying a small premium. That said, local “gourmet” grocers are trying to get away from the public perception that everything in their store costs more. Sueltenfuss said one of his customers told him they had purchased roast beef at a much larger store for $18.99 per pound.

“We source our beef from Maine and it’s $12.99 a pound,” he said. “It’s always been very important to me that everyday food can be local food as well. It doesn’t need to be something that you save up for, or something that’s a special night out.”

Penny Jordan, a partner in The Farm Stand in South Portland, said she doesn’t consider her store gourmet, “and it’s not a high-end market.” The Farm Stand has a butcher, and it sells locally raised meat, poultry and produce, and a few groceries as well. In addition to attracting shoppers from local neighborhoods, customers come from Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and Portland.

A pork schnitzel sandwich being prepared at Otherside Delicatessen in 2015. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“We try to price things so an array of customers can afford to shop there,” Jordan said.

The small market movement has been so successful that Jordan thinks some parts of Portland – she names Munjoy Hill and the West End – are on the verge of saturation.

“What’s challenging is people are targeting certain neighborhoods, and there are multiple businesses targeting the same neighborhood,” she said. “What I worry about is we’re going to hit that point, just like all of the farmers markets, where you’re going to spread the customer base so thin that eventually you’re not going to be doing the volume of business that you need to do.”

An upside for the consumer? Larkin said that because the industry is “fiercely competitive,” as more neighborhood specialty markets open, market forces will drive prices down.

Fournier’s attitude toward more competition is: Bring it on.

“If someone opens up across the street from me, that just means I have to work harder and be better,” he said. “I’m not concerned about it, I welcome it.”

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