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Cathleen Handlin was up long before dawn on Thursday. A retired cultural anthropologist, Handlin, more than most people, appreciates social rituals. So when she heard that an ALDI supermarket was coming to Williamsburg, Handlin made a pact with herself that she would be the franchise’s first customer.
“Even though ALDI is a German corporation,” Handlin said. “I was hoping they would follow the American tradition of having the first person sign the first dollar bill that they ever make from a new store.”
The discount grocery store held its grand opening in Williamsburg on Thursday -- and Handlin was the first in line.
“I was so excited to get the number one!” she said, waving a card stamped with the number. “Everyone here is rejoicing that we’re getting the store. The community is very excited.”
Founded in Germany in 1961 by the Albrecht family, the no-frills grocery store prides itself on cutting costs and delivering those savings to its customers. For example, rather than pay employees to collect shopping carts, the company charges customers a quarter when they take a cart and returns the quarter when they bring it back. The company displays its merchandise in shipping boxes to help save time and resources restocking shelves.
“What makes us so different is that we focus on saving costs where we can and passing those savings along to our customers,” said Sam Stevenson, the store’s district manager. “You can see as you look around the store, we don’t have a butcher shop, we don’t have a bakery, but we have fresh bread and fresh meat. We get it delivered every day...which is one of the ways we save costs.”
The store prices eggs at 79 cents a dozen and bananas at 29 cents a pound. A bottle of ALDI’s William Wright Chardonnay costs $5.99. For shoppers on a budget, a few dollars at ALDI can go a long way -- which would explain why the line on opening day stretched around the block.
As part of its grand opening, the company held a promotion for the first hundred customers, offering them the chance to win a $100 gift card.
For siblings Devin and Joy Tyler, who were some of the first in line, the store’s move to Williamsburg means they can change where they get their groceries, without having to pay a high price.
“We normally shop at Walmart,” Devin said. “But now we can come here, which is great because this is a lot closer.”