Max Brandal, mom and market store manager Sharon Brandal, and volunteer Rosemarie Niscanian stand behind the checkout lane at Busch’s CARES Market ready to serve incoming shoppers.

Max Brandal, mom and market store manager Sharon Brandal, and volunteer Rosemarie Niscanian stand behind the checkout lane at Busch’s CARES Market ready to serve incoming shoppers.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

CARES opens new Bridge store market

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 11, 2020


FARMINGTON/HILLS — After months of planning, and pivoting amidst a worldwide pandemic, CARES of Farmington Hills opened a brick-and-mortar Bridge card store, Busch’s CARES Market, Aug. 3 in partnership with Busch’s Fresh Food Market.

The market is located inside the 1,500-square-foot former clothing pantry inside the CARES campus, 27835 Shiawassee St. CARES Director Todd Lipa has plans to bring the clothing closet, which shut down temporarily due to COVID-19 in April, back in 2021.

Lipa received approval from the Michigan Agricultural Association to open the market April 1 — at first, he thought it was an April Fool’s joke — and went into a mad dash from there to open the store as quickly as possible, while also juggling the transition of food distribution services for the nonprofit’s free food pantry that serves more than 700 families in southeast Michigan monthly.

The new market and the food pantry work in tandem, market store manager Sharon Brandal said.

“We’ve changed it a little bit. At first, we were looking for just Bridge card purchases, but we’ve opened that up to allow anybody to come in and shop — debit (or) credit purchases, as well as Bridge card purchases — and that helps us support the pantry side of it also. Any of the profits this store makes goes and feeds directly back into the pantry side,” she said, adding that items not selling fast enough will be donated to the pantry, as well.

Shoppers will be able to find perishable and nonperishable food products at the market, along with fresh produce. The market also offers an extra benefit to Bridge card shoppers. Those who spend $50 or more at the store become eligible to receive certain sanitary items, like toilet paper or dish soap, which can’t be purchased with a Bridge card, for free.

Doug Busch, the owner of Busch’s Fresh Food Market, helped CARES connect with the right vendors to secure their products. He also provided and set up shelving at the market, establishing ordering guides, and helped them set each product’s pricing.

“It’s been really hand-in-hand,” Brandal said of the partnership with Busch. “Having his name backing behind us has been a huge support to getting the market up and running and operating.”

But Brandal also brings a good amount of expertise — 20 years as an assistant store manager for a grocer. Knowing how to navigate daily operations such as ordering, scheduling, merchandising and displaying has helped, she said. She’s also passed along her customer service knowledge to help volunteers feel more comfortable working in the space.

Not everything has been smooth sailing since the start, however.

Brandal is still looking for at least two dozen additional volunteers to help staff the store, which would allow her to expand the market’s hours into weekday evenings, as well as open on Saturdays. The market is currently open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

Lipa added that, like most other grocers, getting all the products you want during the pandemic isn’t always promised. “Vendors don’t always have the product in their warehouse to put on our shelves,” he said.

To top it off, like most new ventures, getting the word out to prospective shoppers is another work in progress.

“We think the market, once people know it’s here, is going to help that food shortage that families may have. They’ll be able to use this market as a way to conveniently come in and get the products they may need for their family,” Lipa said. “With the expertise of (Busch), we were able to price our product at a cost that’s reasonable. … You can save a few dollars and still get quality food for your family.”

Lipa believes that once they reopen the food pantry — which he hopes to do in October or November — and as word of mouth spreads to Bridge card recipients and other shoppers, the market will see an increase in foot traffic, which will ultimately cycle back to helping the entire operation.

Despite just opening, Brandal has already begun thinking about what’s next. She thinks a delivery or curbside service would go a long way.

“There’s definitely a need for some of that. You have some people that during this time frame don’t necessarily feel comfortable going out and shopping, but they still need groceries. That’s one thing we’d like to be able to provide down the road.”

Busch added that as sales increase, he’d like to see the market hire a few staff members. Brandal said those positions would likely be shift supervisors.

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