For most of the past century, Verona has been a one-grocery store town.
That’s all about to change Friday.
More than two years in the making, Festival Foods is coming to Verona’s west side. And not since Farm and Fleet opened more than a decade ago has a business arrived that could have a significant effect on the city’s retail and job markets.
The 24-hour, 67,000-foot grocery store at 600 Hometown Circle is set to open at 6 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11. It will employ around 230 people and feature non-traditional grocery store amenities like a community room, cafe, vehicle charging stations and free child care.
And with its round-the-clock hours, it’s also going to be a change for Veronans used to heading toward the center of the city to Miller and Sons Supermarket, or grabbing groceries on the way back from Madison. Festival Foods store planning director Aaron Aspenson said studies have shown that “a lot of grocery dollars” have been leaving the city, presenting a clear need for another local store.
“Verona is one of those communities that’s growing fast,” he told the Press last month.
For Veronans, a second grocery store means more options, said city administrator Adam Sayre.
“Festival Foods will be closer than those other grocery options outside of the city and will provide additional nearby shopping convenience,” he wrote in an email to the Press.
For years, Miller’s has been a fixture in Verona, gaining a reputation for charitable giving and its small-town charms. But as Verona as grown, so has the demand for groceries.
In recent years, local convenience stores like Kwik Trip have expanded to add more grocery service and larger grocery chains closer to Madison, like SuperTarget at Orchard Pointe in 2007 and Hy-Vee in 2014 have chipped away at the market, but developers and retailers clearly saw a need for a second grocery store in the city.
There were discussions about bringing such a store on both the east and west sides of town as far back as 2006, but neither went very far. T. Wall Properties proposed bringing a store at the West End, now home to the still-being-constructed new high school, and the Farm and Fleet plan left a spot for a potential grocery store on Hometown Circle that sat without a proposal until Festival came around.
When Festival Foods earned its approval in 2017, it appeared ready to start building the following year, but corporate decision-makers held off construction for a year, as the 73-year-old De Pere-based chain was in the midst of expanding from 21 to 31 stores.
During that time, the company changed the interior layout and adjusted the 300-foot-long facade to serve as the prototype for the company’s new look, just as the Verona Farm and Fleet facade did in 2007. And in the end, Aspenson said even after a year’s delay and a “pretty rough spring” with wet weather, the project was completed this fall as planned.
“Were excited about all the changes we’ve made,” he said. “We’re rolling a whole bunch of new stuff in the Verona market more aligned with our brand image, and really what the communities want to see anyway, just a better, more modern-looking store.”
While groceries are the company’s “bread and butter,” Aspenson said, Festival Foods stresses service and providing an enjoyable shopping experience, something he said the new design takes into account.
In the parking lot, customers will be able to use vehicle charging stations, and once inside, WiFi will be available as they shop, as will the store’s “Tot Spot,” offering supervised child care for kids ages 18 months through 7 years throughout the day while parents shop.
The store will also feature a “Hometown Cafe,” where people can sit down and enjoy a meal from the deli or grab some food to go. Aspenson predicted it would be a popular spot in the store.
“That will be a cool space,” he said. “It’s got big, large windows, and it’s right on the corner of our store.”
Customers can also reserve a community conference room, or if they don’t have the time to stop in,, use the store’s “Click and Go” online shopping. Aspenson said the believes the store will be a welcome and needed addition to a fast-growing area.
“We’re just really excited about it and I think people are really going to like it,” he said.
Gaining such a large employer is a “win-win” for area residents in terms of jobs and shopping opportunities, said Verona Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Le Jordan.
“That is a lot of people (230 expected employees) and obviously, anytime you can hire that many people, that’s always good for the community and surrounding communities,” she told the Press on Monday.
While the addition of Festival Foods is sure to create competition for Miller and Sons, which has enjoyed being Verona’s only grocery store for decades, Jordan said there’s plenty of customers to go around.
“There will be people who switch over or try the new one, but Miller’s also has a very loyal following and has been very good to Verona over the years,” she said. “I think people will pick and choose for various things — some establishments have something another one doesn’t — and I think people will decide what each strengths are.”
Jordan said after the Super Target and Hy-Vee went in just outside the city limits, there were similar concerns about the effects on local businesses.
“These businesses do some research before going into a community, so obviously there must be a need for these stores or they wouldn’t be going in,” she said. “They are faring well (and) Miller’s was still extremely busy the other day.”
Miller and Sons Verona store manager Kevin Steiner declined comment in a phone call with the Press on Monday.
Jordan praised Miller and Sons for being a “good community partner” for years, as well as what she’s heard about Festival Foods stores in other cities.
“They are also good community partners, and any type of business like that is always good for Verona,” she said. “Verona been growing quite a bit, so to have a second grocery store, obviously there’s enough business for both, and that’s a plus.”