By Mary Tilghman
4:05 PM EST, February 22, 2013
Shawn Tan handed out quarters at Catonsville's Aldi grocery store Friday, and there were plenty of takers.
By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m., about 50 people were in line to check out the company's seventh, and newest, Baltimore County location.
One of the cost-savings measures Aldi employs is cart rental. Customers must put a quarter in the slot to unlock a cart. But after shopping, the quarter is returned when the cart is put back.
Tan's gesture was one way the store welcomed customers Friday, and the district manager trainee was distributing lots of quarters.
George Frey, of Ellicott City, and Jim Monaghan, of Edmondson Heights, were first in line.
Monaghan came out of curiosity.
"I like to give a new business a chance," he said.
Frey said he had come for the previous day's open house to scope out the store, clipped the $5 coupon from the store circular and was ready to shop.
"I've always heard about Aldi," he said.
Behind them, Marie Palmer, of Catonsville, was already a fan of the grocery chain.
She usually shops earlier in the week, but this week she clipped the coupon and waited for the Friday opening to buy her groceries.
"They have a lot of good prices," Palmer said.
The size of the store, and the cart rental fee, are the first indications Aldi is a slightly different grocery store.
Customers are asked to bring their own bags. Paper, plastic and reusable bags are available for sale at the cash register.
Customers must also bag their own purchases at a counter along the wall behind the registers.
Inside, the space is smaller than a Giant or Safeway. The Catonsville store measures about 10,000 square feet with six aisles of groceries, paper products, produce and dairy goods.
There are 1,400 of the most commonly purchased grocery items. But there's only one kind of ketchup or facial tissues, both Aldi's house brands.
There are few nationally known brands. Crest toothpaste, Hawaiian Punch, Hershey's candy and Pringle's potato crisps were on the shelves on opening day.
A few other measures are designed to keep costs down. Credit cards are not accepted. Only cash, debit cards and EBT cards are accepted.
The shelves are filled with open cartons to reduce stocking time.
According to Katie Kowalczk, the regional director of operations, a major difference is the merchandise itself. She was one of the division managers offering tours to interested customers the day before the store opened.
She said 90 percent of the merchandise is an exclusive Aldi brand, with names like Moser Roth chocolates, Baker's Corner, Fit & Active and Millville.
Jeff Baehr, vice president of the division based in Frederick, was pleased with the opening of the division's 52nd store.
He said he was aware of the buzz from people already familiar with Aldi and expected to see lots of newcomers.
"I think there's a big population in this area that haven't been in an Aldi," he said.