Adam and Sheila Nappi bought Bow Street Market in Freeport from Adam Nappi’s parents in 2002. The elder Nappis had purchased the market in 1974. Nappi said that during the time he and his wife have been owners, consumer tastes have changed, with a greater focus on what’s in the food and where it comes from. He said that led to a decision to nearly triple the size of the market, which was just over 5,000 square feet when purchased in 2002. Bow Street Market was recently named the Maine Grocer of the Year. The store employs 77 and serves about 8,000 customers a week. Nappi declined to provide financial information for the market.
Q: Why did you decide to expand the market so much?
A: We were just bursting at the seams and our customers were telling us they needed more organics, more local, more produce and better quality. So in 2010 we started an expansion, and in 2011 we opened a new 15,000-square-foot neighborhood market with a full-service butcher shop, a full deli that features no synthetics, no high-fructose corn syrup, no MSGs. It was a real opportunity to be different, and we invested heavily in having a unique layout, built to basically imitate a New England farmhouse. It has some residential units above it, and then in the middle it’s a gigantic barn, and on the sides are outbuildings. Our obsession became local: local produce, local meats, local goods, everything local.
Q: Isn’t it difficult in Maine to provide local food year-round?
A: It’s challenging in the winter, but some products are grown inside in Maine now, like tomatoes. We have to adapt our local selection to seasonality. It might be local jams and jellies, and we highlight that they’re locally produced.
Q: What products have surprised you with their popularity?
A: Perhaps the biggest surprise is Gelato Fiasco. Those guys have done everything right and my hat’s off to them. They’ve been innovative and creative and we’ve been with them from the beginning. When they first started to wholesale, I believe we were the world’s largest retailer of Gelato Fiasco – we may still be.
Pineland Farms has been another amazing partner, with their fresh meat products, no antibiotics. It would be hard to find another retailer that actually sells under their brand name. It’s a differentiating factor that helps make Bow Street Market a destination.
Q: How are shoppers using your market, for daily shopping, weekly or trips for specialty items?
A: First, we’re kind of daily shopping, European-style, where folks build each meal, each day. They may be in once or twice a day. They’ll grab a baguette and a fresh steak and some greens. To a lesser degree, it’s regular shopping. We’re perceived as somewhat of a specialty store. We’ll put a commodity item on the bottom shelf – (for instance), we might put Raye’s mustard at eye level and French’s on the bottom shelf. Another thing that differentiates us in our market is we have an absolutely awesome wine selection and spirit selection. We have what may be Maine’s biggest climate-controlled wine cellar. It’s more of a special occasion visit for that, if you win a big contract or want to celebrate your 50th birthday.
Q: Do you communicate a lot of information from your customers back to the producers?
A: It’s not whether we’re talking to them, but it’s them coming to talk directly to the consumer. They’re telling them that they make this locally and they’re doing it without high-fructose corn syrup or other synthetics, There’s nothing like that connection to the source. Our customers trust us that we’re looking out for their needs, and that’s a competitive advantage for us. We also try to use social media, with Facebook fans and email lists and getting a Twitter account, to communicate better. What we try to do is back up and take a bigger view with three guiding principles (on having producers in the store): is it local, is it community-related and is it free? We try to keep it creative and fresh and inviting.
Q: How has the presence of other stores that focus on organic and local foods, such as Whole Foods, affected your business?
A: It put us in the game in attracting and retaining real qualified associates. We have a whole bunch of team members that came from Whole Foods and Wild Oats who wanted to work for a local company and skip all of that corporate stuff. That’s been one of the most rewarding benefits of expanding. We’ve expanded our variety so the customers really don’t, except on rare occasions, need to travel to another grocery store. At 15,000 square feet, we’re still relatively small. You could fit our market into a national chain’s deli and bakery section, but we keep our local independent character alive. We’re fortunate that our consumers – folks in Freeport and the greater Freeport area – have made the connection that buying local benefits the whole regional economy, and they go out of their way to do so.
Q: You also have an in-store sandwich shop. How has that been received?
A: We’ve got an awesome sandwich section, including one named after the Freeport Police Department. It’s caused a rift with the fire department, so they’re in the process of creating their own now. The Freeport PD sandwich has blazing buffalo chicken, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, green peppers, cucumbers, spicy deli mustard and deli dressing.
Q: Is the rest of your family involved in the market?
A: With mom and dad, we put them to work in the summer. They’re now snowbirds. It’s great to have them and our customers love to see them around and I love having them. My kids are 15, 17 and 18 and all three worked there this summer, but they focus on school and work only holidays. They have to get their college education and then we can have that discussion. It’s an option for the future.