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Early bird shoppers flock to Aldi in Waterford on opening day

Waterford — Almost exactly a year ago, the last duckpin bowling balls rolled down the lanes of Family Bowl. Thursday morning in the same spot, shopping carts rolled down the aisles of a brand-new Aldi supermarket.

Staff at the store said the first people arrived at 6 a.m. to get in line for a first look at the store, which officially opened two hours later.

The store joins a Groton Aldi location that many of the store’s fans said they had been crossing the Gold Star Bridge to visit, and are now excited to have one closer to home — directly across from the Stop & Shop supermarket on Boston Post Road.

The German grocery chain, which carries both major brands and off-label groceries, had announced earlier in the week that it plans to expand to 2,500 stores nationwide by the end of 2022. It promises customers discount prices and organic meat and produce, both factors that drew people to stand in line outside the new store on Thursday.

A particular jar of spicy salsa drew Cheryl Terranova, who said she often shops at the Aldi store in Groton but also will go to Stop & Shop or Walmart.

“I have certain stuff I like at certain places,” she said. Leaving the store later, her cart was filled with eggs, milk and butter, plus a container of strawberries she spotted for less than $2.

Store staff handed out gift cards to the first 100 customers, entered shoppers into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a year's supply of store produce and served chocolate and cheese samples.

The store’s shelves, bare of the flashy advertisements and bright colors typical at other stores, held both recognizable brands — like Chiquita bananas — and private-label goods, like the Aldi brand Willow toilet paper.

"If you're a name-brand person, Aldi isn't for you," said Betty Davis of Waterford, who walked out of the store Thursday with 20 items she said cost her $29. "I'm a fan of this store like it's nobody's business."

The store’s manager, Shelby Podoloff, said she has worked at Aldi stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts and had moved back to Norwich, her hometown, to run the Waterford store.

She said the store’s dozen staff members — mostly local residents — would be on hand in the store’s opening days to help customers acclimate to the pared down, efficient approach that the chain relies on to keep costs down.

After Thursday, the store will start implementing the Aldi policy of renting its shopping carts out to customers for a quarter, which they get back when they return the cart.

“You kind of have to teach the customers how to shop at Aldi,” Podoloff said.

Shoppers Thursday seemed to learn quickly, crowding the aisles and filling their carts with meat, dairy and produce and collecting their gift cards. By 9 a.m., the parking lot was full and all the shopping carts were in use.

Kincora Development, the Massachusetts-based firm that purchased the former site of the Family Bowl duckpin bowling alley last spring, plans to lease another 12,000 square feet on the property to other retail stores in the coming months, Kincora partner Mark Mancuso said Thursday.


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