A market that’s all about its shoppers
Photography by Julie Cahill
Talk about customer service. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake devastated Santa Cruz, and the resulting power outage closed every grocery store— every one, that is, except for Shopper’s Corner, which thankfully had a generator.
Owner Jim Beauregard sent in a crew to clean up the glass and mess, and the team worked throughout the night, finishing at 5am. When the store reopened, “People were standing in line, waiting to get in,” recalls Jim. “They were buying everything they could get their hands on.” Top picks: water and paper towels.
It just goes to show how much Santa Cruz residents really do rely on this Eastside neighborhood supermarket, which today is one of the county’s only remaining independents.
Despite competition on all sides from the likes of Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other chain supermarkets, Shopper’s continues to thrive as it adjusts to changing tastes and needs.
From the outside, Shopper’s still looks much like it did to several generations of Santa Cruzans, with its vintage neon appendages like the “Time to Shop” clock on one side of the store and “Food Market Wines” on the other side. But on the inside, there’s no doubt that it’s a grocery store for the 21st century.
Almost all of the produce there is organic, and the majority of the products are locally made. Customers will find not just Cheddar and Monterey Jack in the cheese section, but an overwhelming 150 varieties to choose from. Local sauces, salsas, pastas, breads and pies are also found in abundance.
There’s a minimum of frozen food. “We sell fresh food,” Jim says firmly. “There’s no Swanson TV dinners here.” And like the store’s other offerings, what is frozen is typically natural, organic and locally produced such as the ice cream selection, which includes Santa Cruz’s own Marianne’s and Polar Bear, and Bay Area favorites, Straus Family Creamery and Three Twins.
The store’s shift over time to the specialty-organic grocer model has been so great that it’s unlikely that original owner Bud Beauregard, Jim’s dad, would recognize the store today.
“My father wasn’t organic,” says Jim with a smile. “He was more of a meat-and-potatoes guy.”
But the meat has been a constant at Shopper’s—and it is a major draw for customers.
Regarded by many as the best meat department in the area, the store’s meat counter is staffed by 14 full-service butchers who can help find the perfect cut or suggest a recipe. Nothing’s packaged in plastic there—the butchers break down their own beef, and poultry and fish are delivered daily.
With the holidays coming, meat department manager Paul Bagnasco says that he’ll expect many special orders that other stores can’t provide, like crown roast of lamb, geese and turducken—that amalgamation of turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken that became a foodie trend a few years back. “That’s really big,” Bagnasco says.
The wine selection, too, is among the best in the area, with Santa Cruz Mountains selections heavily favored, and local breweries also represented.
Produce is mostly organic and grown in the Central Coast area. Once on display, it is checked throughout the day for freshness. What has distinguished the store since it opened in the late 1930s is a dedication to old school customer service. Originally an Espindola chain market, Shopper’s was first sold to store managers, Ed Calwell and Carl Schwartz; when they couldn’t make a go of it, they sold it to two other Espindola employees, Emmett “Bud” Beauregard and Vincent Williams, for $1—plus the accumulated debt of $6,000.
Bud Beauregard and Williams managed to pay it off, despite both being called to duty in World War II, and upon their return built a solid business. Jim Beauregard’s first job at age 11 was sorting bottles, and Williams’ son, Bob, also worked there. In 1994, Jim bought out Williams, and began making substantial changes in response to the changing landscape of the grocery industry.
Jim Beauregard has his fingers in other projects as well—he farms Beauregard Vineyards, a noted Bonny Doon winery started by his grandfather, Amos, where son, Ryan, is now the winemaker. He is also co-owner with the Seaside Co. of the Chardonnay II sailing charter business.
At Shopper’s, his right-hand man is his son, Andre, who confesses that he doesn’t even know exactly what his job title is.
“I think I’ve worked in every department here except meat,” says Andre.
Both father and son say that the key to Shopper’s survival is changing with the times. They attend food shows in San Francisco and elsewhere to keep up on trends; they’re also adamant about proper pricing.
“We’re aggressively competitive,” says Jim, making sure that quality items remain affordable for customers.
And the shoppers keep coming to Shopper’s. On a recent weekday morning, the store is bustling—and front-end manager Colette Sullivan says this doesn’t even compare to weekends. “It gets crazy here at the busy times,” says the 10-year employee, who started there as a teenager.
She’s been preparing for the holidays since August, when specialty orders were placed for items like cranberries, and extra help was hired. Why so early? To allow, Sullivan says, for the training period: “We beef up the staff by a third, and train them extensively so that they’re up to par.”
The Beauregards and their employees say that the family feeling they foster has been essential to the store’s success, as employee happiness leads to customer satisfaction.
“This was my first real job, and they taught me about work ethic and customer service,” says Sullivan. “Your relationship with the customers lasts forever.”
Says Bagnasco, “We appreciate our customers and always give the best service we know how to give. But we always want to get better.”
622 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
shopperscorner.com • 831.423.1398
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.