The two aisles of candy at the new Hy-Vee are highlighted by a giant gum ball machine. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Renee Lajoie of Seymour had no idea the new Hy-Vee store on Sunshine Street was one of three “totally reimagined” Hy-Vee locations in the nation when she showed up with her two kids Tuesday.

It was supposed to be just a normal visit to Springfield to stock up on groceries. 

“It is huge and it’s beautiful,” Lajoie said, while shopping. “It’s like Costco without the Costco.”

The 93,400-square-foot store located at 2150 E. Sunshine offers a wide range of products not normally found in grocery stores, including exercise equipment, clothing and make-up — to name a few.

“I spent a lot more money than I expected to and a lot more time there,” Lajoie said, later. “You need two hours to go through it. 

Shoppers can choose from a variety of prepared food counters including Wahlburgers in the new Hy-Vee’s food court. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“It’s super cool though. I mean, you can buy shoes and a treadmill and kombucha on tap,” she said. “It is probably the only grocery store my husband will ever go with me to because it has a bar.”

Lajoie said they arrived around lunchtime and noticed a lot of people who were stopping by to grab lunch in the large, open Food Hall dining area. The Food Hall offers Hy-Vee’s new breakfast menu, a Pub with full bar and outdoor patio, Mia Italian, Hy-Chi Asian food, Nori Sushi, Market Grille Express, Long Island Deli and Wahlburgers.

A store designed for modern shoppers

Shoppers peruse the prepared/packaged fruits in the produce section. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The new store also has a huge variety of take-and-bake meals.

“We brought home some white cheddar mac-and-cheese,” Lajoie said. “We got a couple of their sweet salads at their deli. My kids begged for sushi but we haven’t gotten that yet.

“I thought about the treadmill,” she added, laughing, “as I’m putting frozen pizzas in my cart.”

Lajoie comes to Springfield about once a week for groceries and said she is “definitely switching” to the Hy-Vee on Sunshine. 

Asked if anything really stuck out to her inside the store, Lajoie laughed again. 

“The whole store stuck out,” she said. “But the kombucha is my new favorite thing ever.”

Customers can take a break before, during or after shopping and have a meal brought to their table from the food court and/or get a drink from the full bar. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

It’s been one month since the Sunshine Hy-Vee location opened, and to say it’s been busy is a bit of an understatement. 

District store director Jim Deitchler said the store’s been seeing around 25,000 customers a week. He said customers have been super excited and impressed with the massive, one-stop shop. Some have commented they intend to be back when things “quiet down” a bit. 

The store is open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and carries about 85,000 items, including 2,000 fresh produce items — 177 of which are organic. It is located at 2150 E. Sunshine St. 

How the pandemic shaped the store’s offerings

Hy-Vee opened two other “reimagined” stores last year: in Grimes, Iowa and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The reimagined grocery stores also exemplify a shifting trend in retail. Not long ago, a shopping mall was the likely place to set up a make-up counter, a coffee shop and a shoe store. Now, as traditional shopping malls see a decline in foot traffic across the country, retail is moving inside different kinds of establishments — ones that into the modern shopper’s everyday life. Grocery stores, a weekly stop for many, are now a sure bet for retailers looking for foot traffic.

DSW, (Designer Shoe Warehouse) has shoes for sale both in the new Hy-Vee and available for online purchase from a display in the store. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Christina Gayman is the assistant vice president of communications at Hy-Vee’s corporate office. Gayman said that because Hy-Vee is a privately held and employee-owned company, they can be “fairly nimble and agile” based on customer feedback.

“We obviously look at trends in the grocery and retail industries,” she said. “But we also take a lot of feedback from our existing customers.”

A lot of the new store’s technology and offerings are a reflection of the way customers’ lives changed during the pandemic, Gayman explained, pointing to the exercise equipment, the larger selection of vitamins and supplements and nutrition options as examples. 

A portion of the vitamins and supplements sold at Hy-Vee on East Sunshine Street. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“It was already on the uptrend that people were more interested in vitamins and sports nutrition and supplements,” she said. “But with the onset of the pandemic, obviously people had a lot more time to think about their health. 

“They had more time to spend on themselves. They had more time to exercise,” Gayman said. “They had more time to contemplate what they’re going to eat that day and whether or not that was healthy for them.”

Other examples include the store’s mobile payment technology and curbside mealtime options that allow customers to place an order on the app and pick up dinner without having to go inside. 

Employees on the mind

Christi Neel, a store service manager, restocks shelves. She was hired in January specifically to work at the new East Sunshine Street Hy-Vee. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The pandemic also changed what potential employees want in a workplace environment, which has contributed to the current workforce shortage

“Because of the pandemic, they had time to kind of reassess what their work/life balance was, what works for their family. Maybe they’ve created this whole new schedule for themselves because they had to,” Gayman said. “Child care wasn’t there. Work was different. And now it’s been two years and in some cases, there’s no going back from what you’ve created. That’s the new normal and so how do you work that into your new life?”

To attract employees, Hy-Vee’s online grocery ordering service is staffed by several “flex workers.” These are employees who sign up for a four-hour shift or a two-hour shift — or really whenever and however long a shift that fits their schedule and lifestyle, Gayman said. 

“Let’s say you’re a mom who you don’t work outside of the home generally,” Gayan said, “but your kids are now all in school and you want something to do in the morning or until they get out of school and you want to pick them up. 

“You can come and apply to be a flex worker for Hy-Vee,” she said. “And then you can sign up for the shifts that work for your schedule.” 

The Hy-Vee on Sunshine employs more than 600 people, Deitchler said. 

“Employees have had a lot of fun,” the store director said on Wednesday. “It’s been a long four weeks, but yet they can see the excitement.”

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald