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"Sometimes it is necessary to let yourself go -- indulge an old craving and experiment with the new." This quote sounds as if it should be inside a greeting card rather than posted inside a grocery store above the frozen foods section. But shoppers strolling the aisles at Annette's Markets in Redlands, Calif., which opened in July, will find this and other philosophical tidbits as they make their way through the store.
This sentence captures the essence of Annette's Markets. Indeed, it captures the essence of Annette Weis, the store's namesake.
Weis, who owns the store with her husband, Edmund, has created in 11,000 square feet a place that is part supermarket, part cultural center, and part home, designed as a reflection of the surrounding community and the adventurous spirit of Weis herself.
Even before entering, shoppers can see that there's something different about this supermarket. The logo, which reads "Annette's Markets: Essential & Fine Foods, Etc.," is written in a delicate script, as if Annette had penned it herself, and leaves the viewer wondering what else is offered along with fine foods.
On entering the store, customers are hit with a visual spectacle. All sorts of colors and shapes greet the eye -- starting with the prepared foods cafe that occupies a circular section at the entrance. Natural and finished woods meet with an assortment of shades, styles, and forms. Barrels on the floor display a variety of products, wooden shelves of differing styles line the walls, banners with Annette's logo and colorful prints hang throughout the store, and end caps are not merely end caps but hutches, each artfully displaying special promotions.
The custom-made hutches are purple, just like the shopping carts that whiz through the extra-wide aisles. Shoppers get the feeling of being in someone's home, with the products pieces of art to be enjoyed by guests. "I wanted the store to be a celebration of life, of food," says Weis. "There is so much natural color in food."
There's also art in the traditional sense of the word, in the form of paintings from a local artist displayed in a window box at the front of the store.
"Eclectic is how I describe it," says Christopher Studach, design director of King Retail Solutions of Eugene, Ore., the firm that worked with Weis on the design. "Banging things together that ordinarily don't belong together and making it work. You definitely feel Annette's personality in the design. There's no cold, impersonal feeling in her store, like you feel in stores of larger chains, which often choose a design that's too safe, and because of that, too ordinary."
All of this wasn't done on a whim, however, to suit some artistic fancy. As unique as Annette's may appear, a closer look at the surrounding community, and Weis' involvement in it, makes the store seem like an ideal fit.
Redlands is steeped in culture. The University of Redlands is a liberal arts school, and because of this there are many local artists living in the neighborhoods around the store. The city is also the home of the Redlands Bowl, a public theater and the center of Redlands' art culture. "Every year we have a festival that runs from June through the end of August, and there are concerts every week on Tuesday and Friday nights," says Weis. "Usually they run the gamut from symphony orchestras to ballets, theater, all types of concerts. The unique thing is that this has been going on for about 70 years now, and there's never been an entrance fee: They pass little bowls around during the intermission and people donate. Of course, through the year they have fundraisers to raise money."
This is where Weis' involvement comes into play. "I have a background in fine arts," she notes. "I have belonged to the Redlands Art Association for many years. I have raised funds for art education scholarships. I started a foreign film series. We're actually doing our 10th series; I do this twice a year. I have also been a fundraiser for the Redlands Bowl and served on the board of the symphony association."
A native of Trinidad, Weis was born into grocery. "My father had a small grocery store in Trinidad, though we just called it a shop," she reminisces. "It had traditional groceries, and then there was a little department my mother had, out of which she sold perfume and lipsticks."
Weis came to the United States in her 20s to study at Ohio State University, which is where she met her husband, who's now an orthopedic surgeon. Her son, Edmund III, the g.m. for Annette's, ended up in retail, though rather than working for a family store like his mother and grandparents, he was initially part of a large chain, and unhappy.
"He took a leap of faith and just quit," says Weis. "He didn't want to stay in that business anymore; he wanted to come back to Redlands and get his MBA. He was at a juncture in his life where he obviously had to continue supporting his family, but his father and I always knew that he was a little dissatisfied with the whole corporate structure. His father often said that the only way to be in control is to be self-employed. But he was not in a position at all to do anything like that."
Taking this idea to heart, Weis' son broached the idea of opening a store. "I always wanted to have a store where one could get everything and not always be rushing around," says his mother, "but if you want to shop for specialty foods as well as regular staples, you have to drive all over the place."
After 18 months of research and putting together a business plan, they settled on a piece of property that was the former home of an out-of-business grocery store, leased the building in August 2003, and started construction in January.
Weis' overall goal was to create a niche store tailored to the community, not one to which the community would have to conform. "Our tagline is 'Annette's Markets: Essential & Fine Foods, Etc.'" she says. "Essentials consists of the basics, which everyone needs. Fine Foods are the specialty items we have, the wines, the cheeses. We have two chefs -- a regular chef and a pastry chef. We make food every day and have it vacuum-packed so it's ready to go. You can come in and get fast food, but it's fast gourmet food."
"The et cetera is just what it says -- a bit of everything," Weis continues. "I have designer jewelry, not from big-name designers but rather local artists, artists who make jewelry from scratch, [using] sterling silver, collected beads, metals, things of that nature. It's one-of-a-kind type of jewelry. The department also contains housewares, candles, and a host of other general merchandise and HBC items. You can see it was influenced by my parents' store back in Trinidad."
The challenge of designing a home for all of these items was the structure itself. Since it was a renovation, they were forced to work with the existing space, so aisles were kept short, with gondolas set at angles before them to accommodate produce. The old, water-stained drop ceiling was replaced with a combination of fluorescent and track lighting.
The design began with colors. "I wanted colors from Tuscany, colors that were warm," Weis says. "I wanted orange, I wanted bright gold, I definitely wanted purple—all celebratory colors."
Weis worked with Anna Victoria, one of King's designers, to develop a color palette for the store, logos, and signage. "Annette was looking to bring an artistic image to the store," notes Victoria, "so we created prints using the Annette's logo and details from watercolors to display throughout the store -- hanging from the ceiling like banners, as well as on the walls."
These banners are among the numerous focal points throughout the store. "In good design you need to have a focal point," says Weis. "I wanted to feature focal points throughout the store."
Words of wisdom
In addition to the banners, artistic sayings -- created by Weis and King -- are posted in various locations throughout the store's departments. In floral a sign reads "Like friends, flowers should be gathered and enjoyed." The wine section's motto is "Good wine sometimes reveals tender things unspoken." And above the entrance to the Etc. department is the message "Etc. speaks to things that bring joy, life & beauty."
Once the palette was set, Weis went to work selecting shelves and displays of all kinds. "The idea was not to find things that fit together, but rather those things that fit the color palette," explains King's Studach.
And Weis followed those instructions to the letter. Aside from the grocery aisles, no department has standard display shelves. The wine shelves are a dark finished wood with large cubbyholes that allow for creative merchandising, while a variety of spinner racks holds greeting cards. This strategy is especially evident in the Etc. section, where the shelving and displays are as varied as the merchandise they carry.
The design element Weis is particularly proud of is the community area on the upper level. Dubbed the Place Upstairs, it's a cozy 1,700-square-foot room in which Weis holds small events such as wine tastings and art exhibitions for local artists.
"What I'd like to do is every six weeks, when we have a new gallery exhibit or painting or artwork, tie it in with a wine tasting," says Weis. "This way it gives local artists the opportunity to showcase their work as they would on the opening night of a show, and visitors will be offered some refreshments -- selections from the 180 types of wines that we sell and hors d'oeuvres from the foods that we have downstairs."
Choosing the artist is purely subjective for Weis. Dennis Hare, the current featured artist, is a friend of hers who creates expressionistic mixed-media paintings. Weis is also planning to have performances from musical artists such as a string trio or guitarist. "I'm sort of mulling over the next show in my head," she says. "I think I'm going to call it "Friends," and I'm going to ask some of my artist friends to submit at least two pieces each -- mixed media such as pottery, paintings, and woodcuts.'
The main thing, according to Weis, is to get the community involved with the store. "I wanted to give it a real sense of theater," she says. "It's a gathering place -- not just a place to pick up groceries."