The line for the cash registers snaked all the way around Santa Rosa's newest grocery store Wednesday, as shoppers jockeyed for position pushing carts full of juice boxes and oversized meat cuts.
Smart & Final, a grocery store chain based in Los Angeles, opened its doors to the public in the Santa Rosa Town Center on Wednesday morning. The 28,000-square-foot store offers deals on bulk items designed to appeal to caterers or party organizers along with a range of options for small families.
"That really is what makes us unique," said Randall Oliver, director of corporate communications. "It's basically a cross between a grocery store and a club store, although there are no fees for membership."
Oliver helped a customer find the back of the checkout line and assured her that it would only take about 20 minutes.
"A little overwhelming," Oliver said. "Hopefully people won't think this is what it will always be like."
A raffle for $100 gift cards, which will continue through Sunday, was part of the draw. Others were lured by low prices for Gatorade and fresh salmon.
"Steaks, strawberries and dog bones. What else?" said Suzie Hoekstra, who co-owns Dan's Superior Auto in Rohnert Park. "Everyone's very happy because there aren't any grocery stores in the area. It's big."
The area of south Santa Rosa had been designated a "food desert" by the federal government because of the limited access to fresh foods. The Santa Rosa City Council passed a law in September to ease the process for opening grocery stores. Six months later, the council rescinded the law after a lawsuit was filed by the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, which feared companies like Wal-Mart would use the faster process to open a neighborhood grocery with little public input.
The new Smart & Final store employs the equivalent of 30 full-time employees, Oliver said. About a half-mile away, Trader Joe's and Target both offer groceries, but provide a smaller selection of produce and other items, shoppers said.
Waiting in line, Rosalyn Andronico, 67, a resident of a nearby mobile home park, befriended Hoekstra, who went off to find packs of Nathan's Famous Frankfurters for both shoppers.
"We've been waiting a long time for a grocery store in this side of the country," Andronico said. "All of the seniors on this side of town, and all of the mobile home parks and probably even Rohnert Park will be coming over."
The new store was a welcome sight to neighboring businesses that have been operating in a barren corner of the shopping center since Circuit City closed in 2009 and Borders bookstore shut its doors two years later.
"We're really excited," said Carl Sidoti, general manager of Aaron Brothers, the frame and art supply store. "We're looking forward to having some new faces on this side of the lot."