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Giant Eagle combines 'best of both worlds'

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 10:53 a.m.
The Cafe at the new Market District Express in Peters Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
The new Market District Express in Peters will offer a variety of food.
The new Market District Express in Peters will offer a variety of cheeses Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
The Cafe at the new Market District Express in Peters Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
Some of the offerings in The Cafe at the new Market District Express in Peters Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
The new Market District Express in Peters Tuesday, December 3, 2013.

Giant Eagle will open its sit-down restaurant, upscale Market District grocery and Giant Eagle Express/GetGo convenience store in Peters on Thursday, offering custom-made foods.

The Market District Express, along Route 19 at Circle Drive, resembles a smaller version of the O'Hara-based Giant Eagle's Market District stores, with its dark wood decor, organic produce, specialty meats and cheeses, and upscale brands alongside mid-range, value brands and store-branded merchandise.

Other parts, such as a full-service pharmacy, bottled beers and licensed Starbucks booth, are in newer, full-scale Giant Eagle stores.

The third section of the store is new for the chain: casual-restaurant seating for 84 people indoors and 48 outdoors, where customers can order meals, draft beers and glasses of wine from the counter and sit down with an electronic pager to have their food brought to their table.

“This is really what this format is about,” said Giant Eagle spokesman Rob Borella, standing among the rustic booths of the restaurant section while workers readied the store. “Being able to eat in or take out high-quality, custom foods, and being able to shop and take home the best of Market District's grocery options.”

The store is the first to open under the Market District Express banner, though two more are in the works for the Cleveland and Columbus metro areas, Borella said.

Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing at Duquesne University, said the more upscale offerings of Market District made sense for the affluent South Hills suburbs surrounding the new store, while the all-in-one offerings of gas, a pharmacy and restaurant could bring in commuters along the busy corridor.

“They're trying to really get us coming and going, literally,” she said of the store's pitch for commuters and convenience shoppers.

Giant Eagle experimented with its “Express” format in Harmar and Indiana — a small grocery or large convenience store with an emphasis on staples and prepared foods for carry-out. The Peters location initially was to become a third “Express” before construction paused this summer for a redesign to accommodate the new concept.

“The Market District Express is the evolution of our smaller-format strategy,” Borella said. “ ... This was an opportunity to combine the best of both worlds.”

The company is banking on the restaurant, gas station and convenience factor to draw customers, which spokesman Dick Roberts said would be “90 percent” from Peters and Upper St. Clair.

Farther north, stores along Route 19 between Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair include a Fresh Market, full-sized Market District, Trader Joe's and planned Whole Foods Market, along with a few smaller, specialty grocers.

A regular GetGo gas station on the northbound side of Route 19 in Peters likely will close after the store opens.

Giant Eagle executives have said they would be interested in opening a store in Downtown Pittsburgh if the population there continues to grow, but they haven't determined the size or location of such a store. Borella said the Market District Express format could be a possibility.

“This is a format that could go everywhere, from a suburban location to a downtown, urban area,” he said. “It would fit the limited space in an urban area.”

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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