Around 50 people – each with newly painted black shopping carts primed and at the ready – lined up just after dawn Friday for the grand opening of a Smart & Final Extra grocery store in central Fresno.
The store, at Clinton and Blackstone avenues in a space previously occupied by a Save Mart, also drew Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Council Member Clint Olivier to its 7 a.m. inauguration. They thanked Smart & Final for moving into the area, which they say desperately needed a grocery store.
Swearengin recently unveiled a plan to revitalize Blackstone Avenue, a business-heavy street she says “affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.” The head of this newly formed plan, former Olivier chief of staff Claudia Ruiz, also was on hand.
Olivier greeted shoppers near the front door of the store, which is in his district.
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His friendly and outgoing nature during a store tour led many shoppers to believe Olivier worked there. After he told several customers egg prices were on the rise because of a recent state law requiring farmers to house chickens in larger cages, several customers began asking him questions about the eggs. He did his best to answer, but eventually called for help from a Smart & Final Extra employee.
The store was packed with people during its opening hour. The checkout line stretched around half the length of the building. Store manager Bryce Sumpter said he had to borrow around 25 employees from other local Smart & Final stores to bolster his ranks.
The new location hired 75 employees over the last month, most of whom were among 1,000 applicants who attended a Fresno job fair in August.
Arlene Sandoval, shopping with her sister early Friday morning, said the new store is just a few blocks away from her home and more convenient than where she shopped previously.
“It’s pretty neat,” she said. “All the workers have been very kind. They came out of the woodwork to help me.”
Paul Wilson anchored his cart a few feet behind Sandoval.
“This is unlike any Smart & Final I have ever seen,” said Wilson, a 20-year Smart & Final shopper. “It’s a lot easier for me to shop here instead of further up Blackstone. I am only about six blocks away from here.”
Smart & Final Extra stores differ from the chain’s regular locations in that they carry more produce and traditional grocery items. Smart & Final stores carry more bulk items for restaurants.
Jim Wood, the district manager for Smart & Final, said another Smart and Final Extra location is planned at the intersection of First Street and Nees Avenue in northeast Fresno.