convenience with a hint of elegance

For an iconic neighborhood c-store, Short StopMarket's current owner hasstepped up its foodservice and beverage programs. Situated behinddoors that have guarded the same structure that has stood in Sarasota, Fla. for 50years is a blend of dedicated convenienceand undeniable class.

Ali Molavi took over ownership of thesingle Short Stop Market in February 2002,bringing his wife on board as the store'sresident pastry chef. The attention todetail Molavi brings to everything in hisstore is obvious to his customers, many ofwhom have frequented this same locationfor upwards of 30 years. While customersmay have been shopping at Short Stop fornearly half a century, Molavi's personaltouch has just recently begun to appearin the store, which totals approximately3,000 square feet.

Many of Molavi's customers are localswho travel to the shop by foot, poppingin after work or during their lunch breaks.To accommodate the amount of pedestrian traffic, the exterior portion of the storewas entirely revamped with new signageand fresh coats of paint. The parking lotwas resealed with asphalt and lines wererepainted to make room for increasedbusiness.

"When my customers are walking toour store in the evening, I wanted themto be in the presence of a brightly lit andopen place. It's important for people tofeel that they are in a safe location," saidMolavi.

Keeping up with theexteriorchanges ,Molavi is constantly checking on the cleanliness of the store's interior as well. He replaced old broken racks with new display pieces and shelves to add to the store's spaciousand clean interior image.

Dream Set-Up
Molavi got his hands on Short Stopwhen it was at one of its low points insales and traffic. He executed a strategicplan to upgrade products and enhance thephysical features. One of the pluses to purchasing the store was the full-size kitchenalready installed in the back. The kitchenmeasures an impressive 350 square feet,and has opened the door for Molavi to create unique menu offerings that could beprepared fresh in-house.

"All of our food is prepared onsite,"said Molavi. "Everything goes throughour kitchen before it gets to the customer.This allows us to put our signature stampon common foods and make them uniqueto our business."

Customers know that when they walkinto the Short Stop Market, they can geta complete and hearty meal that rivalsany QSR. All the hot and cold sandwichesweigh in around 8- to 10-oz., and sell for$3.19 to $4.89. The amount of food servedis usually double the amount a customerwould receive at a sandwich chain for ahigher ticket price.

Some regular customers include business people from the surrounding townswho venture into the store to try the dailylunch specials. Each morning the kitchenstaff picks six different items that areoffered for lunch.

"Our hot food variety is switched upeveryday," said Molavi. "The employees get to plan out a menu depending on their tastes for the day. They come up withpork chops, meat loafs, pasta and freshfish dishes. These are unique dishes thatcarry the quality of a full-service restaurant served at a c-store price."

Standard c-store staples such as theroller grill, which features Dietz & Watsonhot dogs, can be found sprinkled throughout the store as well. The store also has afull service deli carrying quality meatsand cheeses sliced to order. Customerscan choose to buy the deli items to goor order a sandwich, wrap or other dishmade to order.

High-end Offerings
Molavi's wife Jane leads the pastry portion of the business, churning outfresh muffins, cookies and cakes rightin the store everyday. She experimentswith different recipes and tailors the desert offerings based on how customersrespond to certain items. Molavi recalls atime when his wife made pistachio muffins that were glowing from their greencolor. Customers were reluctant at firstto try the mystery muffin, but couldn'tget enough of the colorful treat after theytasted it, and the store still gets requestsfor them.

The same customers who drop in dailyto pick up fresh sandwiches often turnto Molavi's wife to have special events,such as Super Bowl parties and birthdays,catered with the food they sample in thestore.

Perhaps the most unique side of ShortStop Market's business is its monthlywine tastings. Molavi had long been abeer fanatic, sampling different brandsand introducing them to his store. ShortStop boasts the largest c-store selection ofmicrobrew and handcrafted beers in thearea.

"Even as little as eight years ago, thevariety of beer was few and far between,"said Molavi. "Over the years I began tocarry more beers from Northern and WestCoast breweries and worked to expandour selection."

When his customers began to realizethat Short Stop was their one-stop shop for beer, they began asking Molavi aboutcarrying more wine selections. Eventually,the store stretched its wine collectionto include more mid-range and higherpriced brands, mostly based on customersuggestions. Each month a group ofpeople gather to enjoy a wine tasting, complete withhomemadehors devours.

"I'm here in theneighborhood for a reason," said Molavi. "It's not good to bring in items customers don't want. Our store has enough leverage to get theserequested items andsmall enough to still cater toindividual customers."

Short Stop Market has distinguisheditself as a destination shop for locals whoare looking for a unique shopping experience without compromising convenience.Molavi has the capability to carry wineand food requests from his customers, something big box retailers can't accommodate. He knows more than 90% ofhis customers by name, and is workingon learning the names of the remainingfaces.

"There are so many bigger chains outthere, but I am the neighborhood c-store,"said Molavi. "That friendship and camaraderie is what distinguishes Short Stopfrom the competition."

Beer May Be On Tap forPA. C-Stores

While Short Stop Market is having plenty of success with its beer and wine offering in Sarasota, Fla., other marketers are fighting just to get into the adult beverage game.

A Pennsylvania Senate committee is discussing a bill that could change the way beer is sold in the state and ultimately allow convenience stores to sell alcohol. The bill has left the senate committee divided over the right to sell beer in certain venues.

The new bill would allow distributors to sell 12-packs alongside the 24- or 30-packs that they've been selling. The bill would also let distributors sell different kinds of products that are available in other states, such as 15-packs and 18-packs of beer.

The bill would affect groceries and convenience stores, such as Sheetz, Wegman's and Weis Markets, all of which have been fighting for permission to sell beer.

The bill, which state senators are calling "a consumer-friendly measure,'' would also allow bars and restaurants licensed for beer sales to sell up to three six-packs at a time. Current laws allow them to sell a maximum of two per customer visit.

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