Behind the shelves at Speedy

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Tim and Tom’s Speedy Market is a St. Anthony Park institution. Its location, between Highway 280 and the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, ensures that the aisles are always bustling and the registers always ringing.

But geography alone can’t explain local residents’ devotion to their neighborhood grocery store. A major feature that sets Speedy apart is its range of products — from Asian pears to polenta — which other small local groceries simply can’t match.

To keep their offerings up to date, Tom Spreigl and Tim Faacks, Speedy’s co-owners, stay abreast of what’s happening in the world of food retail.

They don’t go into other neighborhood grocery stores because, Spreigl says, “others don’t have the kind of neighborhood we do.”

Instead, they focus on what the larger stores (Lund’s, Kowalski’s, etc.) are offering, and keep an eye on the Food Network to watch for emerging trends. Vendors also recommend products that might interest Speedy’s customers.

So how would Spreigl describe the typical Speedy customer he stocks for?

“First off,” he says, “it’s a very educated, sophisticated neighborhood. People read, study and follow trends. That makes my job easier. I can try items like tahini, which even I had never heard of before. I can bring in organic because I have the base that will buy it.”

The neighborhood is also health conscious, Spreigl says, which is responsible for the relative lack of prepared food on the shelves. “You look in the big stores, and they have maybe 18 feet of Chef Boyardee. I can’t sell that here.”

The impetus to carry many specific products comes directly from the customers themselves, often in passing.

“I’ll be bagging someone’s groceries and they’ll say, ‘Oh, by the way, can you get this?’” says Spreigl. “I look into it, and if I can do it, I do it. You can’t get everything, but you can sure as heck try.”

Large grocery stores work hard making sure their wares are effectively displayed, and Speedy is no different. Spreigl and Faacks have the same focus on marketing and stocking as the “big guys,” but without their resources.

Big stores have a dedicated staff for display and marketing, and wholesale vendors often consult on stocking and product placement decisions. At Speedy, these tasks fall to the owners themselves.

When the produce shelving was remodeled recently, a space between the two new units needed to be filled. It was too warm for other produce like potatoes and onions, so Spreigl had to find a dry good that could logically be shelved with produce, and the space now holds salad dressing.

There’s one marketing tool at Speedy’s disposal that the big stores can’t rival: the accessibility of its owners. Both are common fixtures in the market and welcome conversations with customers.

“And we’ll carry your groceries out,” laughs Spreigl. “How many of the Lund’s boys will do that?”

The full service meat counter (with hamburger freshly ground every day) is another amenity that distinguishes Speedy Market from other grocery stores its size. In fact, Spreigl suspects that’s the store’s main draw.

“Our customers appreciate quality, and that enables Tim to sell very high quality meat,” he says, adding that Speedy buys only USDA choice meat and uses multiple vendors to keep its prices competitive.

While local residents may appreciate having a store within walking distance that sells both coconut milk and two brands of marzipan, Spreigl doesn’t see that as something unique about Speedy Market. Instead, he sees it as a sign of what’s unique about St. Anthony Park.

“You have to go back to the customers,” he says. “It’s their store. It’s their store, in their neighborhood. People say how glad they are that we’re here, and I always tell them, ‘I’m glad you’re here, too.’”

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