PORT RICHEY — No costumed characters. No door prizes. No bounce houses. No radio DJs doing remote broadcasts.
No gimmicks. Aldi doesn't need them.
A crowd still lined up an hour before the new discount grocer opened for the first time at 9 a.m. Thursday on U.S. 19. Cars filled every parking space, sending the overflow to the Hollywood 18 movie theater behind the store.
West Pasco Chamber of Commerce officials could hardly get the red, white and blue ribbon cut soon enough for the Shapely Red Hatters of Port Richey.
"We came from New York; we know all about Aldi," called one of the women decked out in the Red Hat Society signature red hat, purple dress and big sparkling jewelry.
As soon as the doors opened the crowd swarmed in after putting the required 25-cent deposit in their shopping carts. Minutes later, conveyors belts came to life, moving private label produce, chips, cereal, eggs and other staples toward the cash registers.
"This fills a hole that exists in the grocery market," said Wylie Klyce, regional director of real estate for the Germany-based chain. He said the store's target customer base is middle income, with no specific ethnicity or gender.
Executives say Aldi's prices run about 18 percent lower than big box stores and 35 percent lower than traditional supermarkets.
"Our brands meet or beat the national standard," Klyce said. "If they didn't we wouldn't sell them."
A St. Petersburg Times sampling showed a dozen large eggs sells for 59 cents at Aldi. Comparable store brands sold for $1.49 at a nearby Publix and $1.50 at Walmart. Aldi bananas sold for 39 cents a pound, compared with 69 cents a pound at Publix and 49 cents at Walmart, while a gallon of milk sold for $2.69 at Aldi, $3.29 at Publix and $3.12 at Walmart.
Aldi says it keeps its prices low by reducing overhead costs. The company uses a cart deposit system in which shoppers insert a quarter to release a cart and get the quarter back upon the cart's return. Other cost-saving practices include a smaller store footprint and open carton displays. Customers also are expected to bring their own shopping bags. The store also accepts only cash, debit cards and food stamp swipe cards. No credit cards. The chain also has few sales, instead preferring to keep the same prices year-round on its 1,400 items.
"This is so good for our area," said Bob Brehm. The Port Richey resident has watched with dismay as U.S. 19, once the main street of west Pasco, has withered with the closings of high profile retailers Target and most recently Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse.
"That was a disaster," he said.
Brehm stood with the cart as his wife, JoAnn, her list in hand, squeezed through the throng of carts near the produce aisle.
"We'll definitely be shoppers here," he said.
The crowd was comprised mainly of seniors but younger customers perused the store in search of deals.
"I've been counting down to the grand opening ever since I saw the (store) sign," said Kimberly Mayer, mother of five. Finances have been especially tight since work dried up for her husband, a land surveyor.
"I like to save money," she said.