In remarks delivered shortly before clipping a blue and gold ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards welcomed a German immigrant to what he called the world’s most diverse county.
The event heralded the arrival of Lidl—the discount grocer born in Germany and now rapidly expanding to new places in the U.S—like the dense and multiethnic Queens neighborhood of Astoria where Lidl opened April 7.
What follows are more scenes from the opening.
The ribbon-cutting ended months of anticipation from area residents anxious to see what had become of the neighborhood grocery store that most recently operated under the Best Markets banner but had been closed since last July as Lidl renovated and prepared to reintroduce it as a hard discounter. It also ended three hours of waiting at the doorstep for Andrew Cassan of nearby Forest Hills, whose 5 a.m. arrival made him first in a line that by 8 a.m. had stretched along the sidewalk to the end of 37th street, turned right at 20th Ave., and nearly reached 36th.
Cassan, who was born in London, is among Queens’ diverse residents. Visiting Lidl, he said, is the first thing and his wife do when they visit family at home. In New York, that hasn’t been easy to do until now. (There’s an Aldi in Rego Park, but Cassan said he prefers driving further out to Long Island where he says the prices tend to be lower).
One of the first things area shoppers will notice—and something that many used to Best Markets at this location did not, WGB observed—is that the new layout funnels shoppers clockwise. Make a left when entering and you’ll encounter this introduction to fresh produce and bakery. Make a right and you’ll find exiting traffic and registers.
East-west traffic continues throughout the store, with long and wide aisles broken up with through paths dividing the fresh, grocery and checkout areas. This provides a lot of endcap real estate for Lidl to merchandise weekly specials. These seafood cases are roughly in the same area of the floor where Best Market merchandised beer.
The store, located at 19-30 37th Street, has been a mainstream supermarket, off and on, for 50 years. It opened in 1971 as a ShopRite. Walbaums occupied the space for much of the 1980s, before Best Market (known initially as Best Yet Market) took over in the early 2000s. Lidl acquired Best Market in late 2018 (this photo of the Astoria unit was taken in September as Lidl began a thorough physical renovation).
In a dense neighborhood where the food share is divided among lots of independent city grocers (C-Town, Key Food, Associated, Trade Fair, Bravo and more) and well-regarded specialty merchants such as Greek retailer Titan Foods, Lidl is one of only a few neighborhood stores to have a dedicated parking lot. Shoppers who drive are also in reach now of Stop & Shop, Food Bazaar, a newly opened BJ's Wholesale and Costco stores. In general, chains would appear to be gaining more share, capabilities and interest in city neighborhoods: Target and Trader Joe's are headed to Astoria and neighboring Long Island City, respectively.
Lidl carries about 4,000 SKUs at any one time but comprises a larger overall assortment as specialty items are swapped in and out regularly. Pictured here is a kosher offering. The week’s special food offering is “Alpenfest” featuring multiple German, Swiss and Polish SKUs merchandised throughout the store at special pricing, including German spaetzle in frozen; a selection of bratwursts in meat; Polish fruit spreads in grocery; imported gourmet Swiss cheese in dairy; and so on.
While limited assortment means Lidl shoppers won’t likely find everything on their list in the store at once—we struck out on No. 4 coffee filters, for example—the retailer reliably tempts shoppers with bargain-priced items that most certainly won’t be on a grocery list, encouraging a “treasure hunt” experience and ideally, return visits. On display at the opening were men’s and women’s clothing, binoculars, tents, office supplies and power tools like this $29.99 cordless reciprocating saw.