Remodeling is something that he, his father, Kenneth Pool, and his wife, Leslie, have discussed for two to three years; “We knew we needed to do something, but we didn’t know how far to take it,” Mike Pool said. At one point they talked about the possibility of expanding the building toward the east. But, he said when the economy took a downturn; it impacted their discussions on remodeling.
The last time the independent grocery store received a facelift was 21 years ago, when Pool’s father, was owner/operator of the store. He purchased Bill’s Market in 1986 from Bill Wedeking and later changed the name from Bill’s Market to Big John. He still owns the store along with his wife, Dorothy, and Mike, but Kenneth has passed on the day-to-day operation to his son.
At the time Kenneth Pool bought and operated the store, Mike Pool was managing a grocery store in Carmi. He eventually came to Big John in 1996 and has been the owner/operator since that time, though he admits his father has still been very involved with the store behind the scenes. The store remains an independent grocery store and Pool says, “There aren’t too many of us left.”
The biggest reason behind the remodeling is to become more energy efficient. “That’s the backbone of it,” explains Pool, who said the store had two entrances — the east and west entrance, which created a lot of wind in the store, pointing out the checkers had to wear gloves in the wintertime. Most customers would come in through the west entrance. Regardless of which entrance customers used, Pool said it took too long for customers to get to the products. According to Pool, the federal government is now stricter about the use of Freon and businesses are expected to become more energy efficient. “Everyone is trying to be ‘greener,’” he said.
The remodeling began shortly after the start of the New Year, with most of the work being done on the exterior. Pool said when the project is done, there will only be one entrance — on the north side of the building, The check out lanes will be shifted down. He hopes getting customers into the store quicker will enable people to get in and out of the store quickly at lunchtime, for customers who may want lunch from the deli.
Off to the west of the building, an additional space has been added, which Pool says will be used to house the store’s extra inventory, or “back stock,” as they call it, with the area used now for storage of items becoming a part of the store as a part of the new frozen foods section.
All of the interior and exterior changes will also bring with it an expansion to the meat department, which Pool explains will become full service. The meat department will offer specialized cuts and items such as kabobs ready for grilling. All of the meat cases will be replaced.
Changes are planned for the dairy department too. According to Pool, there will be a cooler installed on the outside of the building so that trucks can deliver products straight into the cooler. All of the dairy items will be in doors. He said it is a new concept he has seen in St. Louis and Chicago. In addition, the lunch meats will be in coolers with doors.
With Big John’s close proximity to Fort Massac State Park, Pool said a big question asked by some customers coming from the park is, “Where’s your beer and wine?” Pool confirmed when the renovations are complete, there will be a beer and wine selection in the store. “It won’t be huge,” he said. Pool says he feels when Walgreens came to town, that business helped “pave the way,” for alcohol sales in town.
Pool said there were two studies done - one about three years ago and another one two years ago and alcohol sales was one thing that was mentioned among other feedback.
The store employs about 55 people and when the remodeling project is complete, it would not surprise him that he would need to hire about five to 10 people. But, he does not know that for sure.
Though not a bit biased, Pool said, “It’s going to be one of the prettiest grocery stores.” With the focus being on energy efficiency, he said the store is getting a new heating and air conditioning system, which will eliminate the need for the current ductwork. Like a domino effect, Pool said with the ductwork eliminated, the ceilings, which had been lowered, would now be raised about three feet, creating more wall area available for decorations.
Pool is working with an interior designer and he hopes to have some murals or photos of Metropolis on the walls. He said with the ceilings being raised, it would give the store a more open and inviting feeling.
He will be putting more of a focus on the floral department, which will expand as well. Even though the main reason behind the renovation is to achieve more energy efficiency, Pool said another reason for the remodeling is because the store was dated. “It needed a face life,” he says, also adding, “We wanted to give people in town a nice place to shop.”
Up to this point, most of the work has been on the exterior, with some interior work being done. But, Pool said that come mid-April, that is when the work will gear up, noting that is when the new produce and dairy cases will arrive and also when most customers will start seeing major changes to the dairy and produce departments.
Much of the interior work, when it starts in full force, will be done in the overnight hours, so that it does not interfere with customers and their shopping. But, with the installation of the new dairy cases, Pool said the project will soon reach the point where customers may be impacted by all of the work that is going on.
With the new organization and relocation of some items, Pool says customers will not have to worry because there will be new, big aisle markers installed to help them find their roll of aluminum foil or favorite can of coffee. After the last remodeling project, Pool said Big John created a store map and he expects he will do that again after this project is completed.
Pool said if customers want the store to carry a certain item, it is always a good idea for the customer to bring in the UPC code from the product packaging, so he can find the exact item. He hopes to be able to bring in more natural foods, and to continue to be selective and a little bit picky about what items he brings to the Big John shelves.
The extensive energy upgrades and renovations to the store will end up being a big investment for the business and Pool said the project would not have been possible without the help from City National Bank representatives and from the local city officials, who have been very accommodating.
But Pool emphasizes the price tag of the renovation will not mean higher prices. According to Pool, Big John is affiliated with Associated Wholesale Groceries, based in Goodletsville, Tenn., which has its own private label - Best Choice, which offers a variety of products at lower costs than name brands, but with just as much quality as the name brands. Pool said the store also carries the Always Save generic label, to help save customers as much money as possible.
Pool says almost on a daily basis, the customers say to the cashiers, “Thank you all for doing this.” As for exactly when the project will be finished, Pool hopes it will be complete in July. Right now the plan, which is not set in stone, is to have a re-grand opening at some point in mid-July. Shoppers need not worry though; Pool says there are no plans to get rid of the store’s icon - Big John. “He might get a little plastic surgery - a paint job,” he jokes.