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As America looks toward life beyond coronavirus, one essential activity may never be the same.
The "biggest question facing anyone in retail across the country" right now is what will stores look like post-coronavirus, Stew Leonard’s CEO, Stew Leonard Jr. told FOX Business.
Stew Leonard's opened its doors a little more than 50 years ago and has grown to be the "World's Largest Dairy Store" and thriving grocery business with annual sales of nearly $500 million, according to its website. Based in Norwalk, Connecticut, the family-run supermarket chain also has several locations in New York and New Jersey.
It's not an ordinary shopping experience. Before the coronavirus struck, customers meandered their way through huge one-way aisles decorated in an amusement-like atmosphere. Animated costumed characters sang and danced while people munched on samples of freshly baked cider donuts, pretzels and cheeses. People ordered juicy burgers right off their grill in the summer or chowed down on one of their notorious frozen yogurts. And kids celebrated birthdays at one of their themed parties.
Now, "Chiquita Banana" and all the displays have been "put on vacation." Popular areas of congregation, like the deli counter and bagel bins, have pivoted and the buffet has been shut down.
Looking ahead, Leonard Jr. believes excitement will be key to unlocking the consumer shopping experience.
"I would say that the retailers that make it exciting to come in there with all sorts of new fresh fruits and cherries from California and exciting new products and, you know, you see them making stuff right in front of them, like the mozzarella. You see the butchers cutting meat," Leonard Jr. said. "I think those stores are going to do better than the ones that don't have any show to them."
Leonard Jr. also believes farmers markets have a bright future.
"I think everybody loves going to a farmers market. They are exciting and fun," he said. "That's not going to go away. ... Food is too big of an item for people."
Home delivery and curbside pickup could also fare well. Stores are now seeing between a 15 and 25 percent boost in the home delivery category. At one time, it only accounted for five percent of sales.
"The question really is, is how sticky will this be post-coronavirus?" Leonard Jr. said. "And I think it's definitely not going to go back to five percent. So it could be a 10 or 15 percent after this."