MCCAFFREY'S TENT STORE THRIVES AFTER FIRE

YARDLEY, Pa. -- McCaffrey's Markets has created a festive, farmers' market aura in the wake of a fire that destroyed its flagship store here. The temporary format is paying off in surprisingly strong sales, officials told SN.The three-unit, upscale independent wasted no time setting up a 10,000-square-foot tent -- with refrigeration, electricity, plumbing and air-conditioning -- in the parking lot

YARDLEY, Pa. -- McCaffrey's Markets has created a festive, farmers' market aura in the wake of a fire that destroyed its flagship store here. The temporary format is paying off in surprisingly strong sales, officials told SN.

The three-unit, upscale independent wasted no time setting up a 10,000-square-foot tent -- with refrigeration, electricity, plumbing and air-conditioning -- in the parking lot of its flagship location, even as fire rubble was being removed. The company spent $550,000 erecting the tent, which now houses all fresh departments, including the full-service deli, prepared foods, in-store bakery and meat departments. A limited selection of specialty grocery items and dry grocery products were brought under the tent, too.

"This, being outside, has given us the opportunity to emphasize our produce," said Jim McCaffrey, owner of the supermarket company based in Langhorne, Pa. "Right now, we have whole bins of fresh corn and peaches and cantaloupes out in front of the tent. Earlier, before it got so hot, we played up our floral and plants out there. Now, we're also grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on weekends. People love shopping the tent. It's an exciting atmosphere. We've kept our customers, and we're also making money. A friend of mine said he thought I was onto something because the ROI must be really good. It is." Customers could have been lost to nearby competition, including a Giant of Landover unit practically next door, but McCaffrey said his customers have been loyal. They keep telling him they're happy he thought of the tent.

There's a prevailing air of celebration at the tent -- something you wouldn't expect after a fire that demolished a store posting $650,000 a week in sales. By contrast, the tent store is ringing up $250,000 a week. Yet McCaffrey said that is good, considering the tent is less than a third the size of the old 38,000-square-foot store. There's no frozen food offered. Variety in all departments has been trimmed.

Nevertheless, nearly all fresh departments are ringing up sales at least half what they were in the store. According to McCaffrey:

Deli is averaging sales of $25,000 a week, vs. $35,000 on average previously.

Produce is posting $40,000 a week, compared to $80,000 prior to the fire.

Meat sales are hitting $36,000 a week, vs. $60,000 previously.

Seafood's sales are $12,000 a week, vs. $26,000 previously.

Bakery's sales, at $14,000 a week, are half of what they were at the old store.

Floral, which had been posting $9,000 a week at the store, rang up $6,300 one recent week.

Furthermore, sales of infused olive oils, gourmet crackers and other popular specialty items are only down 11%, he said.

The store continues to carry selected items that officials knew customers would be hankering for, such as made-from-scratch, Jewish apple cake, and roasted turkey, hand-carved from the bone in the deli. Lamb sausage and custom-cut rib-eyes and just about any cut of meat the customer wants are available, too, at least within the day. Because of cramped quarters, most cutting, previously done on site, takes place at the company's central commissary 10 miles away.

"Our meat department has probably been experiencing the biggest challenge," said McCaffrey. "Those guys are just so used to walking 20 feet to the cooler, getting what they need, and cutting it for the customer. Now, that's done at our central commissary, and we're making several trips a day to bring the orders up here. Sometimes we'll just deliver a special order to the customer's house. We're putting a truck on the road anyway, so if it's on the way to the tent, we'll do that."

Construction of the replacement store is expected to begin soon. McCaffrey said he plans to open it by Nov. 1, in time for the holidays.