Matthew Moore walked down the aisles of the Matherne’s Market in downtown Baton Rouge at lunchtime Tuesday looking for peanut butter.
“This is awesome,” said Moore, who had a basket containing bread and carrots. Moore works for an environmental consulting firm downtown and doesn’t live near a full-service grocery store, so the new grocery fills a void.
“This will save me a lot of money and time,” Moore said. “I won’t have to drive two miles to go to a store, or go to a restaurant to get a meal.”
Downtown Baton Rouge had been without a full-service grocery store for nearly 50 years until Matherne’s opened early last week in the 440 on Third mixed-use development.
“A full-service grocery store has always been part of the master plan,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District. “It’s all coming together. This is a turning point for downtown.”
Downtown has a pair of small neighborhood stores, the long-standing Spanish Town Market and the Downtown Grocery at Third and Florida streets. Those stores carry such staples as bread, milk and butter but have small selections of meat, fresh vegetables and fruit.
Rhorer said he expects the new supermarket to bring in more than just downtown workers and residents — a segment that is growing with new businesses and residential developments in addition to downtown’s traditional Spanish Town and Beauregard Town neighborhoods.
There aren’t grocery stores in areas close to downtown, such as Old South Baton Rouge and Standard Heights, Rhorer said. “We want to get the word out to those neighborhoods that this store is available,” he said.
Plans are in the works for an outreach campaign to promote Matherne’s that will involve the CATS bus system, the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative and Together Baton Rouge. The Healthy City Initiative and Together Baton Rouge have been involved in addressing the issue of “food deserts” in the city, which are areas where full-service supermarkets don’t exist and many residents don’t have cars. That forces families to rely on fast food and processed snacks instead of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
The Matherne’s store had a soft opening last week, allowing shoppers to come in while employees were still stocking shelves.
Matherne’s is now outfitted with canned goods, dry staples like rice and pasta, frozen foods, wine and beer. The wine is housed in an old bank vault, harkening back to the building’s past life as the home of Fidelity National Bank, Hibernia then Capital One. More items continue to come in. The dairy section should be filled by Wednesday, and all the meat, seafood and produce should be in by Monday. Right now, the store is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and plans are to extend the hours to 9 p.m. once the property is fully open.
Tony Matherne Jr., a co-owner of the supermarket, said at Tuesday’s DDD Commission meeting that the store will be fully open on Jan. 22. Matherne’s appearance at the meeting drew a round of applause and a cheer.
“The support you guys have given us over this location has been incredible,” Matherne said.
Sales have been about what the store expected in the opening week, he said.
Bill Hounshell, manager of the downtown location, said sales of breakfasts and plate lunches have been “a multiple of what we expected.”
On Tuesday, a line of people waiting for plate lunches of chicken, jambalaya and fried catfish snaked across the store in front of still-empty shelves.
Eric Johnson, an attorney, said this was his second trip to the store. “It’s great to have this here,” Johnson said, noting that he could get a good lunch or pick up necessary items before he headed home.
Karen Alsander, who works for the Louisiana Economic Development Department, said downtown needed a grocery store because of all the people who live and work in the area. “I’m happy that they got this,” she said.
Rhorer said there’s been a lot of excitement about Matherne’s coming in.
“Downtown finally has a grocery store,” he said. “We could not ask for a better scenario. Matherne’s is a locally owned store that’s tied to Associated Grocers, which is a local company.”
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.