Take a Sneak Peek Inside Eau Claire’s Huge New Hy-Vee
90,000-square-foot store includes restaurants, a Starbucks, a nail salon – and groceries
Tom Giffey, photos by Joel Pearish |
Eau Claire’s massive new Hy-Vee store – only the chain’s fourth in the state – will welcome shoppers for the first time at 6am Tuesday with a high-tech experience that goes far beyond groceries.
Inside the 90,000-square-foot Hy-Vee – which will be the largest grocery store in the City of Eau Claire – customers will find six dining options, a bar, a nail salon, a Designer Shoe Warehouse – and a salad-making robot.
“I’m obviously a little biased, but I think it’s a beautiful store,” said Randy Edeker, CEO and chairman of Hy-Vee, who visited Eau Claire Monday from the company’s headquarters in West Des Moines, Iowa.
The Eau Claire location, 2424 E. Clairemont Ave., will be Hy-Vee’s 286th store, but it will also be one of the biggest and most technologically sophisticated. It will be among the chain’s 10 largest stores, spokeswoman Tina Potthoff said, and because it is brand-new it features some of the latest elements the chain is including in its stores.
For example, in addition to traditional checkout lanes and self checkout stations, customers will be able to use the new Scan & Go mobile checkout system, which employs QR codes and an app, allowing shoppers to scan their groceries themselves and pay via smartphone.
“It really modernizes the shopping experience,” Edeker said of Scan & Go and other new technologies that are being rolled out in Eau Claire. Some technologies are being adopted because of the pandemic, he acknowledged, while others simply because the technology is now available.
When the store opens to the public Tuesday, Edeker said shoppers shouldn’t be worried about pandemic-driven supply chain issues impacting the store’s selection: Company-wide, Hy-Vee has added $40 million worth of products to its inventory to address such concerns, he said.
Throughout the store, signs tout Hy-Vee’s prices vs. the prices at Festival Foods just over a mile away on Mall Drive. They’re reminders of the competitive nature of the grocery business, which has seen the likes of Mega Foods and Gordy’s rise and fall locally in recent years.
“We don’t come into (the Eau Claire market) overly confident or cocky,” he said, noting that he expects stiff competition from Woodman’s (which he dubbed “a ferocious, tough competitor”) and Skogen’s Festival Foods.
During a sneak-peek media tour on Monday, the store bustled with employees making final touches and gave an overall impression of brightness, both from of the profusion of skylights and from the 100 TV screens around the store.
Near the front of the store visitors will find a Starbucks counter, a floral shop, and a Midwest Heritage Bank branch. A short stroll will bring them to a sizable health and beauty section, a pharmacy, and W Nail Bar, a sustainable nail salon. Nearby they’ll see sections for Designer Shoe Warehouse, Joe Fresh Clothing, and Johnson Fitness & Wellness exercise equipment.
This being a grocery store, naturally there are countless food options: Aisles and aisles of traditional groceries – including a hefty section of organics, “lifestyle diet” items, and supplements – as well as a well-stocked meat department (complete with a window full of dry-aging beef), a chef’s grill, a seafood counter, and the Cake This! Bakery, where shoppers will find artisanal breads, fancifully frosted cupcakes, and even a raised platform where bakers will show off their decorating skills.
Among the main attractions are the in-person (or to-go) dining options, which essentially make the Hy-Vee a food court: There’s Wahlburgers, Market Grille, Nori Sushi, Hy-Chi Asian, and Mia Italian. You can dine in or carry out, and orders can be placed face-to-face or via a digital kiosk. In the morning, there will be a sit-down breakfast menu.
Oh, and there’s a bar, too. Yes, you can top your grocery shopping visit off with a beer or cocktail and enjoy it inside or (weather permitting) on an outdoor patio. And if you want to bring some adult beverages home, there’s an ample liquor section, where you’ll find everything from familiar New Glarus brews to literal top-shelf booze (including Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac for just under $4,000 a bottle), plus fine wines and a humidor full of cigars.
And there are high-tech (or should that be Hy-Tech?) amenities all around. Consider, as one small example, the pandemic-era take on the old-fashioned salad bar: Near the front of the store is the Mealtime to Go kiosk, which is made by a company called Chowbotics. Choose the ingredients you want on the vending-machine sized device’s touch screen, insert a bowl, and your salad is dispensed automatically – no clumsy tongs or sneeze guard required.
In the pharmacy section, there’s a kiosk where you can self-administer a hearing test and another where you can order customized eyeglasses. Look closely at shelves throughout the store, and the shelf tags are not slips of paper but tiny screens that can be updated with new prices remotely. (This is undoubtedly helpful in a store with roughly 100,000 SKUs – stock-keeping units, or individual items for sale.)
“We do a good job of studying what consumers are into, and moving there,” explained Edeker, the CEO.
The Eau Claire has about 500 employees, including 150 full-time workers. Edeker credits the chain’s success and growth to its workers. He notes that Hy-Vee is employee-owned, which means workers literally have a financial stake in the company’s success.
The Eau Claire Hy-Vee is only the fourth in the state and the first outside of the Madison area. However, that could change soon: Edeker noted the company has its eye on further Wisconsin expansion, particularly in the Milwaukee suburbs.
In other words: Southeastern Wisconsin, get ready for salad robots.