August 14, 2008 Issue
Chestnut Hill Local
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Caruso’s: the family market gets a makeover
When Chris Weidenhammer became the new general manager of Caruso’s Market in May, he knew it would be difficult to convince the community that the store would improve under the ownership of local developer John Capoferri after being family-owned for 100 years.
Some customers have expressed discontent with the new Caruso’s in the Local — some have given it positive reviews as well — but Weidenhammer is sticking to his vision.
“Any business has to make difficult choices,” Weidenhammer said last week in an interview. “We want to learn and continue to grow. We want the best for everybody.”
Weidenhammer envisions the new Caruso’s as a “community market geared more toward a convenience store environment.” It would be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, with a security guard on the premises after 5 p.m.
By next year, he wants to give the store a complete makeover — inside and out — and offer sandwich and grocery delivery, but he said there are financial issues that first need to be addressed to make the venture profitable and sustainable.
“The bones of the business have to be strong enough to support a big capital investment,” he said.
Weidenhammer said he inherited $60,000 worth of expired groceries when he took over, which put him at an immediate fiscal disadvantage. Since then, he has brought financial discipline to the market. He has laid out a budget for each section of the store, and he has tried to find the right balance between shelf space and high-quality products.
The plan has worked well so far, he said, but the challenges are ongoing. He understands that some customers are frustrated with there being a shortage of certain products at times, but he hopes they can bear with him through the learning curve.
For 20 years, Weidenhammer has been revamping small businesses that have fallen into disrepair. He comes to his current task without direct experience in the grocery industry (he was a manager at Robertson’s Flowers for two-and-a-half years before moving on to Caruso’s), but he still believes he has what it takes to make Caruso’s a hub for the community.
Having shopped at Caruso’s for 20 years, Weidenhammer is in a prime position to weave together the strands that are the store’s past, present and future. To do so, he said it was necessary for him to assemble a staff that understands his vision and knows how to deliver it — and that required laying off former Caruso’s employees who were not compatible with his plans.
“People were really upset about it,” Weidenhammer said. “I think it’s inherent whenever there’s change that people are going to be upset. Unfortunately, I felt it necessary, and it was important to me to develop an energetic and enthusiastic team. “
Longtime deli worker Kay O’Connell has retired, Weidenhammer said, but butcher Peter Antonowski has agreed to stay on board and to work every Thursday and train a new apprentice.
“He’s a rock star,” Weidenhammer said of the butcher. “It’s awesome that he stayed.”
Now, Weidenhammer has the team he wanted, and he’s ready to move forward.
Contact staff writer Joel Hoffman at 215-248-8819 or email@example.com