Mike Mattson of Largo is counting the days till the store opens. • Mary Wojcik plans to drive from her home in Holiday to shop in Largo. • It's not a record shop or a clothing store that's causing all the excitement. It's Aldi, a Chicago-based discount grocery chain.
In September, the company will open its first Florida location at 1159 Missouri Ave. in Largo, in the former site of a dollar store.
"It's exciting they chose Largo as their entry into the Florida market," said Carol Stricklin, community development director for Largo. "It's also great to have a retailer occupy an existing space, which helps with the revitalization of the Missouri Avenue corridor."
The company plans to open 10 stores in the Tampa Bay area, and 25 in the state within a year.
The store, which boasts no-frills service and low prices, has developed a cult-like following among devotees.
"I'm ecstatic," said Mattson. "I actually called Aldi to ask when the Largo store will open."
Mattson moved to Florida from Illinois, one of the 27 states where Aldi has stores and he misses the Aldi shopping experience.
A message posted at a Yahoo group chat for Pinellas county asked about shopping experiences at Aldi. Within a few hours more than a dozen people replied with enthusiasm.
"I saved at least a third on my grocery bill compared to other stores," Mattson said. "It's not a fancy place but it has high quality."
Aldi streamlines its stores by offering a limited assortment of grocery staples, private label brands and self-display packaging that cuts the labor costs associated with stocking shelves.
There are other differences. Customers bag their own groceries. Cash and debit cards are accepted but checks and credit cards are not. And customers pay for grocery bags and use of shopping carts.
"It encourages customers to recycle either by using reusable bags or containers or reusing plastic bags from other stores," said Wojcik. "They usually have a good supply of empty boxes that they let customers use."
Wojcik shopped at Aldi stores in New York and Pennsylvania before coming to Florida and says the savings make a trip to Largo worthwhile.
"They have such good deals and their fresh produce is great," said Wojcik.
But what if you want a shopping cart?
Like luggage carts at airports, Aldi requires a quarter to be inserted into a mechanism to release a cart. Unlike the airport, the quarter is returned if you bring the cart back to the store. This saves Aldi the expense of stolen carts and hiring employees to round them up.
Wojcik points out another value.
"People put them back," she said, "so they don't ram the cars in the parking lot."