Reverence for the environment and local is the philosophy behind this homage to the vintage general store concept.
With the closest shopping option at least 30 minutes away, this small-town store serves a diverse customer base with an inspiring produce department featuring locally grown products as well as fruits and vegetables purchased through a wholesale grocery distributor.
From ammunition to zucchini and wheelbarrows to kiwi, Geiger’s Long Valley Market in the heart of California’s Redwood country offers genuine one-stop shopping. Located along Highway 101, about 160 miles north of San Francisco, and roughly 30 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, this grocer with old time, general store ambience attentively serves Laytonville’s population of about 3,000, according to community’s website. Residents live in and around little unincorporated communities, on farms and ranches and nestled back into the woods in the Long Valley region.
Geiger’s combines a grocery store featuring fresh produce, local meats and seafood with all the traditional inventory of an ACE Hardware. Customers buy fishing gear and house paint, gardening tools and childrens’ toys right along with dry goods, local wine, and organic spaghetti squash. The up-front deli section known for its made-to-order sandwiches and hot specials (such as soups, tamales and fritters) brings in the grab-and-go lunch crowd. Truly, every thing is under one roof in this 17,000 square foot store — a measurement that includes the back room and the front office.
Once the hub of the former timber industry, the area is now a rainbow mix of all walks of life. “One of the nicest things about Laytonville is it embraces diversity,” says co-owner Shanna Geiger Braught. “This area has hippies, cowboys, Indians, loggers, cattle ranchers and blue-collar workers. We also have Rastafarians, Ph.D. social drop-outs and entrepreneurs.” While serving the diverse demographics of today’s customers, Geiger’s was once a small general goods store, which opened in 1945, where locals would meet and greet by the wood burning stove. Today’s store, which was built in 2005, is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team, Michael and Shanna Braught. Shanna is part of Geiger family’s third generation. The store’s décor pays homage to the area’s logging days with old saw blades and equipment displayed on the upper walls. Other exhibited tools and historic photos remind customers the tree-laden area was once grand and bustling. This store is a destination point not only because you can shop for anything, but also because the closest shopping alternative is a 25-mile drive to a Safeway store.
Reverence for the environment and local is a philosophy shared by the owners and customers. The store sells its own locally raised beef, lamb and goats. Nearly everyone raves about the goat chorizo made on site. The two Braught daughters grew up participating in 4-H and were recognized for their many goat entries and prize winners in the Redwood Empire Fair, held every year starting in late July.
Retaining loyal in-store help is not a challenge because at Geiger’s, longevity seems to be the model. With a total of 35 employees, nine have worked at the store for 20-plus years. At least five employees have hit the 15-year mark, and three employees have put in 10 or more years.
Geiger’s Long Valley Market does have a Facebook presence, and announcements on incoming product availability are occasionally shared on Twitter. Social media efforts exist, but the traditional role of supporting local teams and activities, sponsoring community events, and participating in festivals and causes, seems to gain the greatest exposure for the store.
Farmers Markets in Mendocino County are plentiful, and they play a role in educating consumers and developing their palettes for specialty produce and locally grown fruits and vegetables. While shopping for goat’s milk soap, fresh-cut flowers and starter plants for home gardens, many residents seek specific vendors known for numerous small crop productions including specialty greens, lettuces, sweet strawberries and summer squash. Some believe the abundance of the region’s farmers markets could be partially credited with nurturing exploratory eating habits among county residents.
Buying local produce is an active part of Geiger’s business strategy. Michael Braught says the store buys from neighboring farmers including Irene Engber. She’s a local farmer who owns Irene’s Garden, which is a certified organic farm known for carrots, kale, cabbage and root crops.
Purchasing organic and conventional produce items through Nor-Cal Produce of West Sacramento has been happening for more than 10 years, according to produce manager Ron Miller. But the broad buying power for the store comes from being a member partner of Unified Grocers, Inc., a wholesale grocery distributor based in Commerce, CA.
Miller, who has worked in produce at the store for six years, says Geiger’s carries around 300 produce items depending on the season. All of the organic products are well marked with the recognized green and white stickers indicating 100 percent organic. Hand-placed signage also identifies the organic items.
During our visit, consumers searching for organics were selecting from dozens of items including 2-pound bags of organic lemons, red yams, Fuji apples, Butternut squash and Spaghetti squash.
Setting The Tone
Located next to the extensive wine aisle, the 3,000 square foot produce department on the right side of the store just past the popular deli section, is seen from the front entrance. Its inviting layout is convenient for shoppers who want to see it all and reach it all with the least amount of inconvenience.
Wooden tables filled with large bowls featuring tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, and numerous loose produce items, fill the center section. Pineapples are plentiful as well as potatoes and onions. Complementing items encouraging produce purchases are displayed on spin racks and noticeable stands around the department.
A long cold case runs the length of the side wall and features packaged products and bulk produce items. Other produce is showcased on three shelves in wicker-style baskets to maintain the farmers market-feel of the department.
Shoppers reach for chard, kale, beets, peppers, berries, mushrooms, broccoli, artichokes, green onions, pears, citrus, stone fruit, grapes, radishes and celery. All organic items are clearly marked.
The bagged salad section of the cold case included salsa, guacamole, dips and dressings as well as organic salads sold in clamshells. The cold juice section located within the produce department is stocked with Pom Wonderful varieties and other juice blends from Odwalla, Bolthouse Farms, and Naked Juice. Several flavors of Suja organic drinks are included in this popular section.
Thoughtful cross-merchandising efforts are integrated throughout the displays; for example, packages of Melissa’s crepes nestled in with the apples, and packaged guacamole dip offered by the avocados, limes and garlic.
The attentive customer service is admirable and fitting, and great care toward maintaining clean produce displays is observable. When was the last time you saw an employee using a produce department-designated hand vacuum to remove broccoli crumbs before restocking the section?
Store manager Dan Guy is pleased with the steady growth seen in produce. Sales have increased 5 percent every month this year above produce sales at the same time in 2015.
Shanna Braught’s decorating talents shine through in produce since she’s responsible for the décor placement and the handwritten chalk signage she had specially created to help set the tone of a country store. Michael and Shanna wisely strayed from the usual planogram. They created a shopping environment where convenience and comfort are crucial in welcoming and maintaining the store’s diverse customer base.
Getting Cheese And Fruit Together
You see apples served with Cheddar on cheese plates. Strawberries are often paired with Mascarpone cheese on restaurant menus. Goat milk Chevre is often sampled with peaches at farmers markets.
But look in the typical supermarket produce department and you probably won’t see a triple crème cheese displayed next to raspberries or fresh figs or smoked Gouda nestled by the Cotton Candy grapes. Cheese, deli and prepared foods departments are often adjacent to produce sections. Sometimes the cheeses and grapes are only a few yards apart.
According to Sue Merckx, director of marketing for Plymouth WI-based Sartori Food, it’s a matter of tradition and supermarket department separation. When the company does tastings at the corporate offices, “we always incorporate fruit on the cutting board with our cheeses,” she says.
The website for Sartori Cheeses suggests matching the company’s aged SarVecchio Parmesan with red grapes or dried pineapple and Dolce Gorgonzola with figs, pears and red grapes.
Since everyone — including consumers — agrees cheese and fruit are wonderful together, why are they seldom displayed as tie-ins? “We work with deli departments. We never work with produce departments. It’s because they are two different management offices,” she says. Sartori does partner with Salad Girl organic dressings for in-store demos featuring vegetable and cheese skewers … but not fruit.