The gourmet market caters to locals' needs, offers a meeting room
by: Vern Uyetake, 
Market of Choice store manager Gregg Kruse looks over the store from the upper reaches of a mezzanine section, which also includes a community meeting room.

Gregg Kruse walks up and down the aisles of Market of Choice greeting people as if he were hosting a dinner party at his own home.

Only this morning, Kruse just wants to know how he can help you find your breakfast cereal quicker.

If Kruse, the West Linn store manager, just happens to make the upscale grocery store feel that much more like home, it's fine by him.

Whether it be catering to an individual's request for an organic dog food or being the place to meet for lunch or a late-morning coffee break, Market of Choice is hoping to become a community hub in the burgeoning West Linn Central Village.

'We want to be the place where people come for whatever they need,' Kruse said.

Since the Market of Choice opened in October, a lot has changed in and around the store.

The market has opened a community center that is available, for free, to any group wanting a place to meet. And the Central Village business community continues to expand around the store, with shops such as Cold Stone Creamery, a gourmet bakery for pets and a host of professional offices. Adding to the hub feeling of the Central Village is a post office and city library.

'They've been a great anchor store for the whole area,' West Linn Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Closson said. 'The more shoppers who come in there see the retail space that's available and all the shops that have opened there. It has served as a catalyst, both in visibility and in attracting many people there.'

Closson hopes to use Market of Choice as a citywide example of an anchor store spurring growth for an entire area, something she said West Linn is lacking.

'It's just been a real boon in the community,' Closson said.

An inherent sense of community is not lost in the overall philosophy of the market, which was founded in the Eugene area in the late 1970s. It began to expand in the late '90s under owner Rick Wright Jr., who inherited the store from his father.

The business is now open in seven locations.

The store is becoming known for using locally-produced products in addition to shelving both gourmet and nationally produced items. And if customers don't see something they need, Kruse said they just need to ask. And the store will do its best to get it on the shelves.

'I've had customers say to me that 'we've been everywhere else, and this is the only place where we can get all the weird stuff,' ' Kruse said.

Not to mention the wide array of options for lunch, from an expansive salad bar, a 'Mongolian Grill' style wok to an increasingly popular gelato case.

It's all part of the community-first focus of the market.

'With the library and post office, this entire area gets a lot of use,' said Lindsay Buchele, market spokeswoman with the Portland advertising firm of Koopman Ostbo.

The community room idea was one that Wright saw while touring an independent grocer in Ohio. And while planning the West Linn store, the idea seemed to fit.

'When I was meeting with some folks in West Linn, a comment came up that there really is a shortage of places for organizations to get together,' Wright said. 'The (community) room has been, booked up quite a bit. It's been great.'

In fact, if you want to book the room, you'd better plan ahead. Kruse said it's booked weeks in advance.

A number of groups regularly use the meeting room, which overlooks the entire store from an upper mezzanine area, including the West Linn Chamber of Commerce, local neighborhood associations and even the Girl Scouts, Buchele said. And of course, anything from the store is easily available.

'So far we've done pretty well,' Wright said. 'We are excited to have the rest of the shopping center done, so we can get on with business and attracting customers to that center there.'

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