The Forest Hill store is the flagship of the six Klein's ShopRite stores in Harford County, and it should look that way, Marshall Klein, director of operations for the family-owned grocery chain said Monday.
After a year of construction during which the store remained open, it is every bit the flagship it should be, Klein said on a tour of the refurbished supermarket that was built by his late grandparents, Ralph and Shirley Klein, in 1979.
"This turned out way better than we ever could have imagined," he said.
The Klein family will celebrate the recently completed $9.5 million remodel with a preview party for staff and vendors on Thursday, and a grand opening celebration and ribbon-cutting for the public at 11 a.m. Friday.
"We want to serve our county. It's where we grew up, it's where I live," said Sarah Klein, the front-end supervisor, who is Marshall's sister.
In addition to an entirely reconfigured store in which the shopping space has expanded by about 20 percent, the Kleins have added about 5,000 new products as well as its shop-from-home opportunities.
"My grandpa said 'Give them what they want,' " Marshall Klein said. "That's what we try to do here."
Klein's ShopRite is the market leader in groceries in Harford County, according to Jeff Metzger, president and publisher of Food World, a grocery trade publication based in Columbia.
With six stores — Aberdeen, Main Street Bel Air, Riverside, Cardiff, Festival at Bel Air and Forest Hill — the chain controls 21 percent of gross sales in Harford, Metzger said.
Wegmans, with one store, has 9.4 percent of the market, followed by Walmart (three stores), 9.1 percent; Giant (two stores), 8 percent; and Wawa (nine stores), 6.2 percent, Metzger said.
"Kleins has been a leader for a long time," Metzger said. "Even prior to ShopRite, they are a well-known, family-connected name in the area. They have excellent locations, more locations than any other supermarket operator. So they have some fundamental strengths going for them."
Beyond that, he said, the family runs the stores well.
"But more than anything else, they have passion, tenacity, pride, great leadership, family succession and they're well-planned," Metzger said.
The Kleins' stores joined the member-owned, regional Wakefern Foods cooperative that trades under the ShopRite name in early 2009.
Marshall, 36, and Sarah Klein, 34, who spearheaded the Forest Hill renovation, are part of the third generation of the Klein family to run the supermarket chain that has expanded over the years to also include one store in Jacksonville, Baltimore County, and two in Baltimore City, in addition to the six Harford stores.
The first of the Kleins, Maurice and Sarah Klein, opened a general goods store in Fallston in 1927, then moved it after World War II to downtown Forest Hill at the intersection of Route 24 and Jarrettsville Road.
Following his military service, Ralph Klein, Maurice's and Sarah's only child, joined the business, which became more grocery-oriented as the decades passed. Ralph's wife, Shirley, and their sons, Andrew, Michael and Howard, also joined the enterprise, the boys working there as youngsters and then as adults after college.
Today, five of Ralph and Shirley's grandchildren are running the family business — in addition to Marshall and Sarah, Jacob, 30, son of Michael Klein, and Stephen, 31, and David, 28, Klein, sons to Howard Klein, are working in various capacities for the business.
"The Kleins are fortunate their kids are interested and are prepared for this," Metzger said, adding the third-generation success rate is about 13 percent. "They have given them the challenge and are letting them move forward with it."
From the time she was young, Sarah Klein always wanted to work in the stores.
"It was one of my lifelong goals," Sarah Klein said, remembered when her father, Andrew Klein, would bring her into the store to work during snowstorms when cashiers would call out.
Sarah graduated from John Carroll School and Roanoke College and came to work for the business in 2006, she said.
"It just feels like, it really is family," she said. "Multiple generations have worked here, it really ties it all together. It makes you feel like part of something bigger, not just working for a business."
After going to St. Paul's School for Boys then Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., Marshall got his degree from the University of Maryland Law School. He joined the business around the same time as his sister.
He considered coming sooner, but his parents "forbid" him, Marshall said.
They were struggling to open the Jacksonville store, and Marshall said he'd quit law school and come to work.
But his dad, Andrew Klein, told him to "bring extra value to the table."
"So I had to make myself better," Marshall said.
He always knew he'd join the business.
"We grew up a mile down the street. We saw what the business has done for our family, the impact on the community," Marshall said. "I look at what my grandpa and grandma started. This is who we are. It's rare to find a profession that defines you."
Work on the Forest Hill store began last fall, but it remained open, as the renovation proceeded department by department.
New lighting and electrical systems, which are expected to save 25 to 30 percent on power, were installed, even though there is more refrigerated space, Marshall Klein said.
About 5,000 square feet was added to the total size of the building, though the shopping space expanded by about 12,000 square feet, he said.
After two expansions since the store opened in 1979, it had a lot of unusable space, he said.
"We took over a lot of back room space that was really antiquated as far as what we dedicated it for," he explained. "We invested in space where it needed to be invested."
The store is more modern, up-to-date, he said. "We didn't want it to be so sterile."
Other amenities include a full-service international cheese department; an expanded prepared foods department; expanded fresh seafood and meat offerings; and a larger health and beauty department.
During the renovation, Sarah Klein said she worked hard to keep Harford County and her grandparents in mind, with tributes to them throughout the store. Ralph Klein died in November 2014 at 88 and Shirley in September 2016 at 86.
"It's really something I'm passionate about, really making it about Harford County," she said. She picked out many of the photographs while cleaning out her late grandparents' house, which she is renovating and planning to move into.
When shoppers walk in to the newly renovated store, they will see pictures of the Rock Spring Farmers Market, the train station near the original store in Forest Hill and the Old Line Bike Shop.
Grandma Shirley's Fudge Shop offers fresh candy made daily by a professional fudgatier; Grandpa Ralph's Smoke Shack, is the store's fresh-smoked barbecue section.
At the front near the checkout is a mural with a photo of the original Klein's staff as well as pictures of Ralph Klein in his military days and one with his sons.
"This is really what we're all about in this space," Marshall Klein said. "We have this brand new store and still remain proud of where we came from."
A lot of people thought the Kleins sold out when they became part of the ShopRite co-op, but that's not the case, Marshall Klein said.
"We want people to know we're still here."
Modern look, modern services
Businesses have to change as the industry evolves, and the third generation of Kleins is helping facilitate that change.
As 20- and 30-somethings, the Klein grandchildren are boosting the online and shop-from-home grocery business. Already available at Festival at Bel Air, the shop-from-home delivery and pick-up service will soon be available at the Forest Hill store.
Last week, the Festival store filled 250 such orders. About 80 percent of them are pick-up orders, the other 20 percent delivery, said Marshall Klein, who sees that trend continuing.
It's easier for a shopper to swing by the store on the way home than to make sure they are home when the delivery arrives (or risk having perishable items sitting outside).
"We streamline it to shop, pull up, swipe and leave," Marshall Klein said. "At the end of the day, customers want more convenience, to be able to shop digitally."
More than 5,000 new grocery items have been added to the shelves during the renovation, Marshall Klein said, including 250 different types of yogurt alone. The section of probiotic beverages has been expanded as well as various kinds of specialty cheeses and seafood selections caught fresh.
"People want it, why shouldn't they be able to get it where they buy their Bounty paper towels?" he said.
Linda Doak, of Forest Hill, has been shopping at Klein's in Forest Hill for 25 years.
"I think this is wonderful, I think it's very, very nice," Doak said Monday about the remodeling. "There's more variety of things. And it used to be so tight in the produce department. Now it's nice and open."
Lisa Whipple started shopping at the store two years ago and said the renovation is a big improvement.
"Everything is easier to find and it just looks fresh and new," Whipple, of Forest Hil, said.
She also likes the new prepared food sections.
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"All you have to do is warm it up. It's easy," the mom of three said. "They don't all eat the same thing, so here I can get something."
Carole Linthicum started shopping at Klein's when she moved to Forest Hill 12 years ago. She said it has the best prices and selection. She likes the new look.
"Everything is brand new, it's so nice," Linthicum said. "But it's so much bigger, it's going to take a while to get used to."
Pat and Jim Sands were also trying to get used to the new layout on Monday. They've been regular Klein's customers for a little more than a year.
"It's taken a long time," Pat said. "It's pretty nice, a lot nicer than it was before."
"We're just trying to get used to where everything is," Jim Sands said.
"It's like a treasure hunt," Pat Sands added.