Customers lined up outside before dawn. In the first half hour, lines at the five cash registers were more than a dozen people deep.
The Lexington Co-operative Market finally arrived in North Buffalo Wednesday morning.
The new store at 1678 Hertel Ave., between Starin and Wallace avenues, is the co-op's second location in Buffalo.
"I didn't even know it opened this morning, so I'm super excited. I just walked by," said Trish Lorence, who lives around the corner from the former CVS location.
The store features about 9,000 square feet of retail space making it roughly twice the size of the Elmwood Avenue store. It has a take-out restaurant, sidewalk café and a larger selection of grab-and-go items and prepared foods than the Elmwood location. There's indoor seating, too.
The early morning's big crowd was due in part to a giveaway by the store – the first 100 customers to enter the store Wednesday will be receiving free coffee for a year. They'll be getting a special Lexington Co-op mug they can bring in for a free fill-up.
Customers were already lined up outside at 4:45 a.m. when general manager Tim Bartlett said he arrived. The co-op distinguishes itself from other grocery stores in how much it purchases from local vendors and how much money stays local, said Bartlett, who has been with the co-op for 20 years.
Bartlett estimated that 56 cents of every dollar spent at the co-op last year stayed local, which is approximately three times what stays local from an average chain store, he said.
"I think it really fits with Buffalo's traditional 'local first' mindset and I think we're a community where chains struggle in general to find a foothold, especially chains in the food business," he said. "I think that's just because our town wants to eat from people who they know. And so that fits in right with us."
David Elder walked out of the store Wednesday morning carrying a shopping bag with fresh coffee, almond butter, fresh fruit and organic cheese.
He also grabbed a blueberry scone.
"Hot from the oven," Elder said.
He became a member of the co-op during his shopping trip and said he likes the store's selection of healthy and natural products, as well as the co-op structure.
Elder has shopped at the Elmwood store many times, "but this is my neighborhood, so I'm totally excited that it's open."
One of the local vendors selling its wares at the Hertel Avenue store is Bootleg Bucha, a kombucha brewery on Niagara Street. The company sells kombucha on tap in the co-op, in addition to its bottled product, which is sold at about 70 locations, said owner Jeff Empric.
Having the kombucha on tap allows customers to get the beverage fresher and to try different flavors from what's normally available in bottles. Working with the co-op has helped Bottleg Bucha grow, Empric said.
"The co-op is a local business that gives us an opportunity to connect with our customers and really grow our brand," he said. "With them having over 15,000 members locally, for a small company like us starting out in Buffalo, it allows us to build that brand recognition with customers in Western New York and helps us grow our business quicker."
The Hertel co-op location will employ about 50 people, bringing the total number of employees to about 150.
When the co-op was much smaller, store workers took road trips to co-ops in Ithaca and Vermont and aspired to be bigger, said Domenic Licata, who served as the co-op's board president from 1996 to 2002.
Those co-ops are now looking to Buffalo as a model, Licata said.
"This is something built from the ground up by the people of Buffalo," Licata said, "and it's just kind of miraculous."