Open Letter to Matassa’s Market

Dear (newish) owner,

Was so very glad to see your interest in this community asset, and the upgrades you added. I also shop at the Broad and Canal store which I enjoy a great deal. And already, the store looks great and honors its long history.

As someone who has shopped on St Phil and Dauphine for more than 35 years – and has designed and managed many retail outlets – I have some thoughts about how to make it work even better for this time.

I’m sure tired of hearing in the media about how ‘no one” lives in the Quarter or we don’t want to shop; we do. And that “we” includes the hundreds of people who live near the Quarter, or work in the Quarter who also shop for groceries, and yes it does also include SOME of our short-term residents- the ones who rent the houses or that use their friend’s FQ place so they can hang out, cook, and visit. In other words, there are PLENTY of shoppers for this little store by increasing those shoppers who shop for quality goods which will raise the average sale and its frequency. Rouse’s doesn’t work for a lot of people so you can succeed with its overflow and by building your own loyal shopper which requires patience and planning to gain those new shoppers and reclaim those lost.

These thoughts, some collected from my neighbors are about how we’d redo this lovely legacy store to make it work for this era, for the way people shop now are for you to take or leave but do know they are offered with all good intentions.

Reorient the store: It has loads of space that is not used to its best benefit. Yes, change it once again! Paint the inside bright colors. Add even more lights. Lots of well painted or printed signs, including prices for everything. Keep it VERY clean – inside and outside too. Reduce aisle clutter whenever possible. Reduce the height of the shelves in the front room to increase sightlines around the store.

In retail anthropology terms, when people come in a store, they automatically go to their right and the first 10-15 feet are hard for them to notice anything. In your store, that sends them past the coolers and to the back room. Keep that trek to the back room as clear of clutter as possible. Instead of coolers on the St. Phil side of the store, use low shelves and have low stacks of water, other non-alcoholic drinks in small cases, and some high-end cocktail mixes. Keep that area attractive and open and well lit. Across from that area (in the front room), maybe add a single long table for customers to eat with a small bit of local artist goods behind it; think artist CDs and other music items to honor the Mattassa legacy and also fun, a few NOLa kitchen items).

In the backroom, single-serve cold drinks should take over the first 2 coolers on the back wall. For the rest of the coolers, reduce the number of SKUs of food in the freezers, and pack it tightly with a selection allowing for an entire cooler of cold beer to remain.

As for produce, less is actually more here- little to no bagged produce, sell all by weight or by each and less space devoted to it. Stick to basics but more varieties of bananas, grapes, citrus, apples, and pears, but the olds gotta go! Cull it often to get rid of rotten and mealy.

With vegetables, focus on the basics for New Orleans and sell most as “each”, not bagged:: onions, peppers, garlic, sweet potatoes, celery, red potatoes, tomatoes, mirlitons other seasonal squash etc, carry only a tiny bit of the fresh unusual items such as avocados, ginger, fresh herbs.

The open coolers in the middle of the store in the back room should only have a little bit of single item cold produce, with more space devoted to lots of dips, yogurt, hot dogs, cheeses, and sausage and ready to eat items. (see below about varieties of brands).

Salsa is the number one condiment in the US now. Put a good selection on the shelf and in the cooler, hummus too, guacamole (that hot guac from Broad!) and always more than one brand. A selection of pizza crusts and specialty items like naan too.

For all food items in coolers, freezers, and on shelves:

Fully stock (nobody wants the last or second to last of something!) shelves with 2-3 varieties of staples. Follow the Trader Joe and Whole Foods model of stocking deeply with 1 national brand, add a small amount of 1 trendy version, and a lot of 1-2 local/regional brands. For the national brand, no off-brands. Look at the labels and try to find mid-range, somewhat healthy versions of items.

For example, mayonnaise: try Helmann’s, maybe a wasabi-flavored or sriracha mayo, and Blue Plate and Duke. Beans: Bush’s or Heinz, maybe A Dozen Cousins for the trend, Blue Runners, and Camelia.

(Hot dogs: Oscar Meyer beer and turkey, maybe Nathan’s, a skinless version, and maybe even a vegan brand)

Same with yogurt: single-serve but also quarts and a variety such as Greek styled, plain, fruit, low-fat high fat, yogurt drinks.

Same with ice cream: offer a good selection of single-serve and sizes, have national, trendy, and local brands. Put the ice cream in the cooler way in the back next to the old deli counter. Put signs that point people to it.

Stock more single-serve items of the staples: milk. creamers, peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, crackers, chips. Workers and visitors want a snack now and then as do residents!

Offer the deli space to the dozens and dozens of pop-up vendors across town who are doing amazing food choices and need commercial kitchen space. Let them hold lunch and evening food events and even stock their items in your ready-to-eat area.

Formalize the package service that some neighbors know that the family has offered forever. Add attractive storage for packages on the back wall where paper goods are now and even use the delivery guy to drop off those packages -all for a monthly fee.

and hey- why not go for a single 10-minute passenger zone for the first parking spot in on the next block? Give those drivers a fair chance to load up.

Oh, we have even more ideas and thoughts, but we hope you can see some good ones already. Let’s just get Mattassa’s to its next level.

About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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