Despite Tough Market, Pasadena’s Independently Owned Grocery Stores Continue To Thrive

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Despite cutthroat competition from neighboring big-name grocery chains, two of Pasadena’s independently owned stores – Lauer’s Supermarket & Bakery and Angel’s Food Market – have experienced growth and success over recent years. The grocers credit their success to their ability to attract and retain a loyal customer base while providing top-notch customer service and giving back to the community.

Lauer’s first established its presence in Pasadena in 1974 after Ed and Helen Lauer purchased the previous Super Thrift grocery store at the intersection of Mountain and Tick Neck roads. In 1982 the Lauers decided to expand to a second store, and they purchased the Acme Supermarket in Riviera Beach. To replace the original store at Mountain and Tick Neck roads, the Lauers opened a new shop at the intersection of Mountain Road and Edwin Raynor Boulevard in 1988.

Both locations expanded over the years. In the early 1990s, Lauer’s purchased the Dollar General store in order to expand the store in Riviera Beach, and in 1999, Lauer’s expanded the Edwin Raynor Boulevard store after purchasing the adjacent Rite Aid drugstore.

Today, management and ownership of both Lauer’s stores continues to stay in the family as Ed and Helen’s daughters, Bernie Snoops and Babbie Poyer, manage and operate them.

Snoops explained that one of the biggest attractions to Lauer’s is its bakery department. “We concentrate on our bakery,” she said. “We are unique in that we have a scratch-and-mix bakery and feel people come to our stores for that reason.” Snoops further explained that unlike most other grocery stores, Lauer’s bakes products from scratch. “Most supermarket bakeries take frozen products and thaw them. We bake ours from scratch,” she added. “We fry our donuts every morning. We make things every day.”

Snoops also believes the store’s commitment to community service attracts customer patronage. Lauer's is devoted to the local community, especially to youth organizations. They support local schools through their advertising program and are a frequent sponsor of area sports programs, scouting functions, church dinners and the Downs Park concert series.

“The big thing we try to do is promote the Pasadena Business Association’s Shop Local program,” said Snoops. The Shop Local program offers special discounts to store patrons to support charities and non-profit organizations. Lauer's Learning Ladder, the store's flagship community service program, rewards the loyalty of its frequent shoppers by donating dollars toward local education. Since 1992, they have contributed over $900,000 to community schools.

Angel’s Food Market has been at its landmark location on Mountain Road since before 1960. The store was named after its original owner, who sold the store to the Clocker family in 1960. The Clockers have continued to run the store ever since.

Tragedy struck Angel’s in 1976 when a fire completely gutted the store. The Clockers were forced to close down and completely rebuild their grocery shop for several months. They reopened in the spring of 1977. Since then, the store has gone through several minor remodels, but underwent its largest renovation in 2009. The store’s square footage expanded nearly 70 percent.

“It was our most significant renovation ever and a complicated one at that,” recalled Walt Clocker, who took over the store from his parents back in 1990. “We modernized everything to keep pace with the competition. We redid everything including systems, lighting and the roof; we added a modern loading dock, made technological improvements and added more front end lanes.” To address increased interest and demand, Clocker said the store added more frozen space and expanded its prepared foods offerings to include a large hot bar and soup bar.

Clocker is also proud of his store’s ability to compete pricewise with its competitors. The store publishes a weekly eight-page sales circular that he said is on par with any of the other grocery store circulars. “In terms of numbers and prices of sale items, we’re right there. We can offer the same value. We’re part of a co-op that gives us the same buyer power.”

Clocker was also very fond of the customer service that Angel’s offers. “We have superior customer service, being a smaller, locally owned business,” he said.

In addition, Angel’s is one of very few grocery stores in the state that is permitted to sell beer and wine. Maryland state law bans grocery stores from selling beer and wine, but certain stores such as Angel’s received an exception under a grandfather clause, because they were licensed before the law was enacted.

“All of these things wrapped up together is one of the reasons we’re still around,” summed Clocker. “We just want to keep doing a better job at everything.”

In the Baltimore area, Giant Food continues to hold the top spot with nearly one-third of the market share based on sales, according to Columbia trade publication Food World. Safeway is second with about 15 percent of the market.

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