Friday, April 08, 2016

TOP STORY >> Store attracts big crowd

Hundreds of people lined up early Wednesday morning outside the new Edwards Cash Saver in Jacksonville, eager to get their $1 silver coins and check out the bargains inside.

The cost-plus supermarket is similar to the Edwards Cash Saver in downtown Little Rock and Levy. All goods are available at the stores’ cost plus 10 percent at checkout.

The line stretched around the corner in front of the old Knight’s Super Foods store in Jackson Square, 315 S. James St.

The remodeled 42,000-square-foot store was newly painted inside and outside, with updated fixtures and a wide variety of groceries, from freshly cut meat to cage-free eggs and organic vegetables and much more.

In a few minutes, a throng of shoppers rushed into the store as if it were Black Friday, beckoned by the bright lights and white walls with new shelves and crates of daily specials inside.

Business was booming all day as shoppers filled the parking lot and 600 shopping carts and more were in steady use late into the evening.

But before all that, Steve Edwards, owner and president, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce members and city officials.

Joining him were Oral Edwards, his father and company founder; Ashley and Paul Rowton, Steve’s daughter and son-in-law; executive vice president Gary Proffitt and his wife Amy; store manger Ron Davis, Mayor Gary Fletcher and others.

Edwards told the assembled crowd, “This is a special day for the Edwards family.”

“This happened really fast,” Edwards said. “We started construction 48 days ago to make it a great place to shop. We think our timing is perfect.”

He said the company, which is based in east Arkansas and has been rapidly expanding into the Little Rock market, had long been interested in moving to Jacksonville.

“We’ve been looking at Jacksonville for a long time,” Edwards said. “When Knight’s became available, we jumped on it.”

Knight’s continues to operate stores in Cabot and Beebe.

Edwards, who was a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission for 16 years, said Jacksonville is poised for growth, pointing to a new high school that will be built behind the store and a SIG Sauer ammo plant going up on Gen. Samuels Road.

“The city voted to invest in itself with a millage increase” to build the new high school, Edwards said, which is why his company made a big investment in the store.

He said Fletcher and city administrator Jim Durham helped smooth the way for the acquisition. In other towns, Edwards said, a businessman might see the mayor once. “Not here. They were always available.”

Fletcher returned the compliment. “This is going to help revitalize downtown,” the mayor said. “I predict this will be your No. 1 producing store.”

After first day’s business, Fletcher might not be wide of the mark. Edwards praised Proffitt for doing a great job supervising the store’s remodeling the last seven weeks. Proffitt, who worked as a teenager for Knight’s Super Foods in Cabot, also worked for Food 4 Less and Fleming Foods, a wholesale supplier, before going to work for Edwards almost 20 years ago.

The store has 50 full-time employees and 70 part-time workers, Edwards said.

Carlos Alatreste is the meat manager and Mark Ledbetter is the produce manager.

The store does not have a full-service deli, but it has a large smoker making hot smoked ribs, chickens, pork, brisket and other meat items available daily.

The store also has a large fresh produce department along with a full selection of name-brand and private-label grocery items.

One customer remarked she was pleased with the selection of organics from salad greens to milk, half-and-half, cream cheese, eggs and canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.

In addition, she said there is a large selection of fresh produce, not to mention a huge assortment of dried herbs, spices and condiments.

The Edwards stores have become known as “The Meat People” and the Jacksonville store includes a large meat department, which features certified Angus beef.

The store emphasizes fresh meat especially because large chains like Walmart have eliminated their butchers.

Associated Wholesale Grocers in Memphis is Edwards’ main supplier. This is the seventh store in central Arkansas for the Edwards family since entering the market in 2009.

GES, Inc., the Edwards’ parent company, was formed in 1968 to consolidate a group of supermarkets. The corporation now owns 10 supermarkets since moving into the Little Rock market in 2009.

The company has four supermarkets in Little Rock, one in North Little Rock and Bryant, as well as stores in Forrest City, Harrisburg and Marianna, along with convenience stores in McCrory and Augusta. Oral and Steve Edwards, who have more than 80 years of grocery experience between them, own GES, Inc. Along with Proffitt, the Edwards family also owns Tobacco Warehouse, LLC, which operates convenience stores.