NORTH ADAMS -- The improvements are immediately apparent when entering the store.
New floors. New fixtures. New energy-saving refrigeration cases. New aisle signs. Even the doorways are new.
Raanan Hartman, the store director of Big Y Foods in North Adams, discussed the changes during a tour of the store on Veterans Memorial Avenue.
"It's been a long time since it was updated," said Hartman, who has managed the store since 2011.
Big Y Foods Inc. of Springfield, one of New England's largest independently owned supermarket chains, has invested more than $1.4 million to renovate its two Northern Berkshire markets in Adams and North Adams.
Re-opening ceremonies featuring a cake-cutting are scheduled to take place at both markets at 10:30 a.m. today. North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright will attend the event in the Steeple City, according to Big Y.
Big Y also is renovating its market in Pittsfield, one of five that it operates in Berkshire County (the others are in Great Barrington and Lee). But the Pittsfield renovations are being done separately from the improvements that were made in Adams and North Adams. This is the first time in at least a decade that all three stores have undergone renovations, said Claire D'Amour-Daley, Big Y's vice president of corporate communications.
The Northern Berkshire renovation project began at the beginning of September, and includes improvements to every department in each store. Hartman and David Smith, Big Y's store director in Adams, said the renovations have mostly been conducted around the inside perimeter of each market. The interior aisles in each market have remained mostly the same.
"The perimeter is the sexy part," D'Amour-Daley said. "That's where all the perishable foods are and where we can make a difference."
Big Y operates 61 markets in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has recently put a lot of money into its Berkshire County operations, where it competes with another regional supermarket chain (Price Chopper) and a national chain (Stop & Shop). Big Y spent between $14 million and $16 million to build its market in Lee, which opened in November 2011. In September, Big Y announced that it was joining forces with a Springfield-based owner of convenience stores to open a "Big Y Express" store adjacent to its Lee market.
"Sometimes competitors in the area can wake you up a little bit," D'Amour Daley said. "It's hard to compete with one hand tied behind your back."
PHOTO GALLERY | Berkshires Big Y stores undergo extensive renovations
Big Y recently completed renovation projects at markets in Westfield and in Killingly, Conn., D'Amour-Daley said. But the Northern Berkshire project is not part of a companywide renovation policy.
"We're always doing renovations," she said. "We never stop. We have found that we continually need to reinvest in our facilities, and that we always have something to complete."
"We decided to do these two together somewhat because of their proximity," D'Amour Daley said, referring to the Adams and North Adams markets.
At 47,000 square feet, the North Adams market is almost twice the size of the Adams market on Myrtle Street, which is 27,786 square feet. Big Y has operated both markets since 1984, when it purchased them from the former Adams supermarket chain. Built in 1961, the North Adams market is nine years older than the Adams store, according to the assessors' offices in both Berkshire communities.
One of the most popular improvements to the North Adams market is the store's first pizza ovens, and sandwich shop, which are both located in the back of the building. The North Adams market has 110 employees, according to Hartman, and is expected to add 8 to 10 more due to the addition of the pizza ovens. Big Y is also installing the first cafe seating area in North Adams, which is in the store's front. The store also has a new organic section, has expanded its offerings of gluten-free foods, and constructed new areas for meat, seafood and fruits and vegetable items. There are new floral and dairy sections, and an in-store bakery offering bread and muffins.
Hartman said the renovations have enhanced the customer experience.
"We offer a better variety now," he said.
"It's a cleaner look," Hartman said. "A more updated look."
The Adams market did not receive pizza ovens, which Big Y also has in its Pittsfield store, and it won't be adding additional employees, D'Amour-Daley said. But the market does have an expanded delicatessen, and new seafood, meat, bakery and organic food areas along with extra space for fresh greens and organic products.
"It's based on the needs of the customers," said Smith, who became director of the Adams store in February. "I have fresh fish. I didn't have that before. Customers were going to other places to get fish. And we have more single-serve items. The clientele here is significantly older, so we have more single-serve."
The customers in both Adams and North Adams both like the improvements, the two store directors said.
"It's easier to shop," said Smith.
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At a glance ...
Founded: 1936, in Chicopee
Founders: Brothers Paul and Gerald D'Amour
Company name: Named after an intersection where two roads formed a "Y"
Locations: 61 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut
Employees: More than 10,000
Berkshire locations: Adams, Great Barrington, Lee, North Adams and Pittsfield
Source: Big Y Foods