SEATTLE -- With Easter just past and Memorial Day still a month and a half away, mid-April can be an awkward time for supermarkets looking to move seasonal merchandise.
Visiting several retailers here last month, SN found a largely tentative approach to seasonal promotions and, indeed, to general merchandise on the whole. Most stores had no devoted promotional aisle. Some gave a nod to Mother's Day with a couple of feet in greeting cards, while others were straining to unload unsold plush bunnies and even plastic Easter grass.
There were exceptions, however:
13050 Aurora Ave. North
This large, new Albertson's had a committed promotional section within a larger general-merchandise/health and beauty care section adjacent to the pharmacy. Overall, the 72-foot gondola was neatly and fully stocked, with the products organized around a coherent "summer fun" theme. All down the line, bright orange and yellow Bonus Buy tags directed shoppers' attention to savings.
The section opened with 12 feet of coolers and ice chests, with soft, 12-pack coolers from Arctic Zone and 34-quart hard-plastic ice chests from Coleman both going for $14.99.
Farther down the aisle, at eye level, there were Rubbermaid plastic Servin' Saver pitchers, with brightly colored lids, selling for $2.39 each. Above them were foam drink holders for $1.39 and, at the top of the gondola, 20 feet of fans from Nobility -- eight different stockkeeping units in all -- that ranged in price from $6.99 for a personal desk fan to $23.99 for a three-speed standing fan.
Kids' outdoor toys included "bubble guns" made by Imperial Toy Co., Los Angeles, $5.89 each, and foam bat-and-ball sets, distributed by Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's, for $3.49. There were also snorkling masks and breathing tubes made by Aqua-Leisure Industries, Avon, Mass., that went for $15.99 a set.
After these kids' items came 20 feet of gardening accessories: hoses, hose nozzles, Ortho Bug-B-Gon, Miracle Gro, potting soil, sod, and flower seed mix from NK Lawn & Garden, Chattanooga, Tenn., in decorative tin cannisters retailing for $6.99.
At various strategic points along the gondola there were J-hooks and clipstrips full of items such as women's gardening gloves ($2.99 per pair), swimming goggles ($2.39 per pair), Kodak Gold film ($4.24 for a 24-exposure, 200-speed roll), brightly colored plastic ice cream scoops ($1.49 each) and Albertson's own disposable cameras ($8.99 for a 35mm camera with 27 exposures). Elsewhere in the store as well, Albertson's encouraged shoppers to look ahead to summer.
Atop frozen cases in grocery aisles were more Coleman coolers and lawn chairs, which ran from $4.99 for a plastic child's chair to $14.99 for a vinyl fold-out chair.
In the dairy section was a display of elaborate, homemade-looking birdhouses from Craftline Wood Products, Mountain City, Tenn., that sold for $16.99.
In front of the customer service desk, right next to video, was a large display of Seattle Mariners merchandise -- a table full of T-shirts ($8.99), signs ($7.99) and hats ($7.99 to $9.99), with another row of T-shirts hanging from the ceiling.
In the 72-foot greeting card set, on the other side of the promotional aisle, was a full 16 feet devoted to Mother's Day cardsfrom American Greetings, Cleveland.
The only base Albertson's did not cover, it seemed, was the imminent outdoor grilling season and the barbecuer's need for supplies.
A couple of steps inside the front entrance was a large display of Kingsfsord charcoals, lighter fluid, waterproof matches and the like, but no spatulas, skewers or other similar items a shopper might be tempted to grab on impulse.
100 Mercer St.
Barbecue, from sauces and seasonings to tools and serveware, is one area Larry's, an independent gourmet/health-focused retailer based in Bellevue, Wash., has down pat. Larry's did not have a promotional section as such, but had a good-size housewares section. Within view of the checkout aisles near the front of the store, merchandise designed for outdoor entertaining was on display. A large wood table was full of grilling accessories from the Companion Group, Oakland, Calif. There were 21-inch rosewood and stainless-steel spatulas for $13.35, grill scrapers for $2.79 and boxes of smoking chips for $4.99.
Nearby, on attractive, industrial-style metal shelving (while SN wandered the section, a shopper asked a store employee where she could buy the shelves), was steel barware, including cocktail shakers with wooden olives on top, that sold for $27.79 -- along with martini glasses.
There was also a large display of summery, citrus-color tableware in glass and in plastic. A set of four breeze-glass coasters in various colors from Boston Warehouse, Norwood, Mass., retailed for $27.79, as did an antique lantern designed to hold votive candles.
SAFEWAY, 516 First Ave.
N.W. and 530 Broadway
Neither of these older stores operated by the Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer had a dedicated promotional aisle. The First Ave. store, aside from an 8-foot Expressions From Hallmark greeting-card set tucked, along with magazines, into a small wine department by the entrance, offered no nonfood merchandise to speak of.
The Broadway store, too, had an 8-foot Expressions section at the front of the store, to the right of the pharmacy, with 2 feet of Mother's Day cards selling for $2.99 and $3.99. Tear-off coupons from Hallmark, good through Mother's Day, May 10, offered shoppers a free 10-minute phone card with the purchase of three greeting cards.
QUALITY FOOD CENTERS,
Street and 523 Broadway
The Republican St. QFC, in the Queen Anne area, was neat and clean and featured attractive coffee, wine, deli, floral, bakery and seafood departments, but it had virtually no general merchandise, much less anything that could be called a seasonal display.
The Bellvue-based retailer's Broadway store was larger, with about 24 feet of housewares in-aisle, but had no dedicated seasonal aisle and only a few off-shelf displays of any kind throughout the store.
There was a cardboard shipper full of boxes of Benadryl capsules at the customer-service counter up front. Another shipper, next to a grocery aisle, featured a $19.95 video called "Washington the Beautiful," based on a local television special.
At the very front of the store was a sort of party station, with 12 feet of greeting cards and party supplies from Gibson Greetings, Cinncinnati, balloons and plush toys, as well as potted plants and flowers.
8500 Third Ave. N.W.
At the front of this Greenwood-area store, an affiliate of Associated Grocers here, was a 6-foot greeting-card set with about a third of the space devoted to Mother's Day cards from Recycled Paper Greetings, Chicago, $1.95 each.
Nearby were two tall displays full of Easter leftovers. Plush white rabbits and lambs, direct imports from China, were marked down from $9.99 to $4.99. A roller rack overflowed with plastic Easter grass, four bags for $1.
Barbecue accessories were J-hooked in a few locations throughout the store. Basting brushes for $2.99 from Bradshaw International, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., were hung above frozen turkey, sausage and other meats at the rear of the store.
Some heavy-duty barbecue tools -- spatulas, large forks and basting brushes -- were situated rather oddly above bacon in the processed-meat area.