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Shoppers, Start Your Engines: Latest Time-Saver Is Drive-Up Market

June 20, 1990

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ On Colorado Boulevard, where the little old lady from Pasadena terrorized other drivers, motorists no longer have to leave their cars to grocery shop.

They can cruise instead to a drive-up window for the eggs, detergent or some of the other 1,400 grocery items, fast food or household goods at the Drive-Thru Express Store opened by the supermarket chain Vons Cos.

The window isn’t just another car-crazy California trend. It’s more an example of how supermarkets are trying to compete with convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and vast ″hypermarkets.″

″We think that somebody who’s tired today can swing by the store and pick up dinner for tonight, they can pick up their detergent to do the laundry, and even pick up a fresh fruit tray for their breakfast tomorrow,″ said Phil Hawkins, Vons’ vice president of sales. ″And it’s all at a good price.″

Similar setups have been tested at convenience stores in such cities as Edgeworth, Pa., and Springville, Utah.

″There’s even a drive-through newsstand in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,″ said Sheri Aguirre, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

Markets across the country now include everything from post offices to bank branches to cafes. Vons, Southern California’s largest retail supermarket chain with 328 stores, is a regional leader in such experiments.

In its Hispanic-angled Tianguis markets, for example, mariachis play on weekends and shoppers can purchase pigs’ heads, hand-rolled tortillas, cactus, and Mexican sweetbreads.

At its upscale Pavilions stores, you can buy a $50 bottle of Opus One, the Napa Valley red wine produced in collaboration by California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s late Baron Philippe de Rothschild, or some fresh sushi, chocolate amaretto mousse or tiny red teardrop tomatoes.

Three Vons stores have convenience stores built into the supermarket, and more of them are planned, according to spokeswoman Mary M. McAboy.

It’s one of those Express Stores that has been expanded with the drive-up window experiment. Ms. McAboy said windows likely will be tried at other locations, although no final decision has been made.

Hawkins, the vice president of sales, said that when he drive-through opened in March, Vons officials estimated conservatively that 100 drivers per day would use it. The number as of May was about 200 per day, mostly at mealtimes.

Express Store items range from corn flakes, cat food and condoms to specialty pizzas - the Santa Fe version is topped with blue corn tortillas and peppers.

On one recent morning, there was no waiting in line at the window. It took 55 seconds for a clerk’s voice to come over the speaker, then 95 seconds to fill the simple order: some antifreeze, motor oil and mints. The store was out of one item, a Barron’s weekly business newspaper.

″It’s not that busy during the day,″ said Mieko Becker, an employee. ″There’s a lot more at night when the moms line up for milk, things like that.″

No alcoholic beverages are sold through the window, and for now there’s no fresh meat or produce available. ″We think people want to touch, smell and look at the fresh products,″ Hawkins says.

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