Hundreds of mint condition carts are pressed into seven perfect rows.
The wide aisles are lit, but the shelves are empty.
Market Basket Operations Manager David K. McLean walked down an aisle to the front of the store.
“This store is 80,000 square feet,” he said. “We’re hiring and we’ve had a great turnout of applicants.”
More than 400 job seekers have applied to work at the store.
McLean said the company is looking to fill 300-350 jobs.
More than 200 applicants have already been hired, and many have started training at the newly opened Warwick location.
Market Basket’s parent company had expected the Johnston store to be Rhode Island’s first.
When the site was chosen, at the former BJ’s Wholesale Club location, the company announced the new store as Market Basket’s first Ocean State penetration.
“We had four stores going when the pandemic hit,” McLean said. “No one knew what was happening.”
Disruptions in the global supply chain hit the company hard as it attempted to proceed with the new store openings.
Steel products became scarce. Microchip shortages delayed the arrival of functioning equipment. Roof insulation became a hot commodity, and the cost of all building materials skyrocketed.
McLean expects the Johnston location will finally open some time in August, though an official date has yet to be set.
Contracted tradesmen toiled at the ends of every isle, implementing the remaining finishing touches.
“We expect to open within that timeframe,” McLean said. “We still have some town, state and federal permits to secure.”
Outside, the parking lot still needs its stripes.
Screens flash advertisements and computer prompts along a row of 18 registers. McLean said the Johnston location will be a full-service store.
“Each register will have a bagger and a checker,” he said from the manager’s overlook second story balcony. “With helpers, just here, up front, we could have about 50 people working per shift.”
There will be no self-scanning terminals.
A marketplace will feature prepared foods from Niji Sushi, Abon’ Danza brick oven pizza, subs and paninis, a burger grill and bakery.
All food will be prepared on-site, McLean said.
A dining area will provide seating for 55 people, with free wifi and plenty of receptacles for plugging in dying electronics.
The isles are extra wide, so customers pushing carts can push through and browse with ease.
The produce department is huge, with a section for organics, and other health food options. All cut-fruit will be dissected on site, fresh and preservative free.
“We prepare our cut fruit every day,” McLean said, entering the back of the store.
“When this store opens, the fields will be producing,” he said. “It will be the perfect time of the year.”
During the summer season, Market Basket buys most of its produce from farms throughout New England and parts of Canada.
The company has jumped through multiple hoops to become one of the few dealers of Certified Angus Beef products.
“We’re now one of the top sellers of Certified Angus Beef in the country,” McLean said. Only 20 Market Basket stores, including Johnston, have completed the brand’s arduous certification process.
Trained butchers will split sides of beef into New York strips, T-Bones and cowboy cuts on-site.
“We’re proud we went thought the vetting process,” McLean said as a worker made adjustments to the steak display case.
He expects about 20-25 percent of the Johnston new-hires will become full time career associates.
The store provides profit-sharing options for its employees.
“To pay a man or woman a weekly paycheck is all fine and good,” McLean said, reciting the late store founder’s philosophy. “But to set them up for the years beyond, that’s very important to this company.”
Every manager in the chain started as a part-time associate, McLean said. The store promotes from within.
“Do you want to work for a company, or do you want to work with a company,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world. We want our associates to work with us.”
A trailer has been set up in the parking lot’s lower level, for applicants to submit paperwork and sit for interviews. The company is still accepting applications for employment at the Johnston location.
“We believe in having respect for our employees, the customers, and the tradesmen,” McLean said. “We’re all on the same bar. And as long as no one gets greedy, the bar won’t tilt.”
Several years ago, BJ’s Wholesale Club vacated the new Market Basket building, but relocated to a distant hill still within the town limits. The new BJ’s location can be seen through a window in the Market Basket dining room.
Efforts are also underway by town officials to lure a Costco to the town. McLean said he welcomes the competition.
“Competition is good for all of us,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having the citizens of Johnston and surrounding communities come in to look around. The town of Johnston has been incredible to work with.”
Market Basket owns and operates 85 stores in New England. The Johnston location will be No. 86.