Owner: Mun Kwan Cha
Cooperative: Retail Grocers Group
Location: 3008 Church Ave, East Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY
Photographed: May 2019
Just a block west of Country Coco is the 4,000 square foot MK Marketplace. It's a very similar store in many ways. In fact, the stores used to share an owner. MK was the Master Food Supermarket from its opening in 1998 until about 2015, when it rebranded to MK Supermarket. Inc 2017, a new corporate entity was formed called MK Market Place Inc. While I can't locate an individual's name for the MK entity, I'm willing to bet ownership has not changed and that Mun Kwan (MK) Cha is still running this store.
So here's the thing about supermarkets. They're a hard business to be in. The profit margins are so low that especially independent owners have no wiggle room whatsoever. And the reality is, dense urban locations (regardless of income level of the neighborhood, by the way) tend to have very high shoplifting rates. This has led a lot of stores to be very tough. MK Marketplace seems to be extra tough -- maybe too tough. Security cameras and display screens are visible in every aisle, with printouts of security camera shots and shoplifters taped to the shelves with captions like "Stole ice cream, June 2016" right where the product they shoplifted was. That, to me, seems over-the-top. Just have a bag check counter at the front of the store like so many other urban supermarkets do. Maybe this store is just too high-volume for something like that, as it was extremely busy at the time of my visit.
That said, like so many other stores in this neighborhood, there's a wide selection of Caribbean products, though this store does have a smaller produce selection than some others we've seen.
In fact, I'm nearly certain that the shelving we see here was designed for produce, not dry grocery.
Single serve beverages in a new case towards the back of the store. Notice the combination of regular items and more specialty products, such as the ginger beer in glass bottles (see bottom left, above.)
Dairy in the first aisle, with frozen on the back wall and grocery on the far side wall.
You can see a few of the shoplifter pictures taped to the freezer cases on the left. I've seen similar things before, but always in one specific place (like the security counter or customer service, not at the location of the product). Other question - how do you shoplift ice cream without it melting? Never mind.
Well, MK doesn't use shelf tags; instead, they price each item. Meaning those price tags end up all over the floor.
Front end. You can zoom in to see more pictures of shoplifters on the registers and the red part of the wall...aaaaaand the security display screen on the front windows turned off. Nice. I have to say, if I lived in this neighborhood, I don't think I'd shop here. I'd probably head a block west to Country Coco or a block and a half east to the Shop Fair that we're going to see tomorrow. Both were more welcoming. Anyway, this store has vanished from Google Maps, so while I couldn't tell you for sure, it's possible that it's permanently closed.
That is odd concerning the pictures of the shoplifters placed all over the store. Superlo Foods, the only independent grocery store I go to (which is also a local chain), has similar printouts, but like most stores (and as you mention) those are placed along the front end in one specific spot.ReplyDelete
I agree that all those printouts and the security monitors are unwelcoming, and I wouldn't be surprised if you wound up on the wall after your visit for taking pictures! Joking aside, I am actually surprised that they don't have a security guard. Most stores that place such an emphasis on theft seem to, and also seem more likely to enforce no photography policies, so I'm glad you didn't encounter any problems here.
Well, I think you hit on one of the key problems with this approach -- there is the appearance of high security, but there actually is none. There wasn't even a manager watching over the front-end as nearly every supermarket in this area has. In my opinion, one of the chains that does security well in higher-crime urban locations is Supremo Foods, which has a designated security desk at the entrance. A security guard sits at this desk and checks bags or backpacks, which are kept behind the counter (and then returned upon exiting). The guard also has monitors from security cameras positioned usually so that only they can see them. For the majority of customers, therefore, the guard just greets them and hands them a circular if they want it.Delete
Here's my tour of the Elizabeth, NJ Supremo... https://www.marketreportblog.com/2018/01/tour-supremo-foods-elizabeth-nj.html
To be honest, I do think one of the reasons I am stopped relatively rarely is because I'm a white man. The general assumption is that I'm from a competing chain checking out the store's operation, rather than casing the store for shoplifting purposes. I've even been asked what store I work for. On the whole, stores are quite relaxed on the photography in this area -- most don't even have posted policies.
That's very interesting. Which approach do you think is more successful? Or at least, more successful in the eyes of customers? Both approaches sound off-putting to me, but I think I'd rather deal with tons of video monitors everywhere than having my belongings held for the duration of my visit. On the other hand, if something were to happen in the store that necessitated a security guard's intervention, what good will all those monitors do without a guard?Delete
Stores around here are a lot bigger and also are mostly chain stores, so it's interesting to hear the different perspective of how grocery stores are in your part of the world. You could very well be right with your assumption. I've gotten that question (who do you work for) only once, and it wasn't even at a grocery store. (The employee had seen my camera open as I walked the apparel aisles, and thought I was photographing the price tags. How do you normally respond in these situations?)
I'm also surprised to hear that your stores are more relaxed. If anything, I'd have thought they'd be more stringent. Based on what I've heard,
independently owned stores always seem to be more concerned with both security and photography, but maybe that's just a stereotype and not true a lot of the time. I know I've avoided some independent stores in Memphis for these reasons, but also because they're not in the best neighborhoods and I always feel suspicious already when I'm taking pictures. I believe these stores do have posted policies.
All great questions. I must say, you can put as many security cameras or bag check counters as you want, but nothing deters shoplifting like passionate, present, and visible management. I know that sounds odd, but there's no substitute for management who are on the floor and involved with the details of operations. This makes them more approachable to customers, but also more present so that there is the feeling that they have an eye on what's going on. At the end of the day, if people feel like the store is looking out for them, and truly serving the needs of that community, they are less likely to antagonize the owners and management and see them as an abstract force from outside intruding into their neighborhoods, and instead an organic part of the growth of a neighborhood. If security measures are in place, however, which is mostly inevitable, I like the Supremo style better. Bag checks are extremely common in this area's urban supermarkets, so that doesn't even strike me as unusual anymore.Delete
I've photographed something like 1300 stores over the past approximately four years, and I've been stopped maybe seven times? Definitely fewer than a dozen. And most of the time they don't really care, and even one manager couldn't believe someone was as excited about supermarkets as he was. My response is entirely based on the manager's attitude -- there is a range from the well-intentioned and firm, to the regular ol' jerks (https://www.marketreportblog.com/2019/08/look-inside-fresh-imperium-food-market.html); and then on the way other end of the spectrum, the friendly managers who just want to know what's going on. In a few other cases, I've been followed without being stopped, which honestly bothers me more.
On the whole, stores around here tend to be smaller, more likely to be independent, and more crowded, so managers usually have more important things to keep an eye on. Those stores that do have posted photography policies (such as the Albertsons-owned stores -- ACME, Shaw's, and Star Market; or independents like Food Bazaar) frequently don't enforce them. Anyway, so many people take pictures just to put on Google Maps that it's hard to come up with a valid reason to ask for no photography.
At the end of the day, I'm never trying to create conflict with supermarket owners or managers. As you know, this blog is very sympathetic to supermarket ownership and very rarely criticizes stores for things other than the minor aspects. At the top of my list is making sure the managers do not feel threatened and just plain ol' being a nice human being.
That's actually totally understandable about management. Like I said, stores seem to be a totally different environment where you are compared to where I am, so this is all new to me. I never would've thought bag checks would be so common, either.Delete
That's great that some of the managers are even excited about your hobby! Following me would creep me out, too; that happened to me once, at a Kroger that has since closed. I think Kroger may have a no photography policy, but more recently I haven't seen any signs to that effect, so maybe they're changing with the times. Like you said, it's hard to stop people from taking selfies or pictures to post to Google Maps anyway, so there's not much of a point, the way I see it. I will agree that continuous picture taking like we do is a little stranger, but as ever, I don't mean any harm by it. I wish this hobby wasn't viewed as threatening by some store personnel.
I agree 100% with your final paragraph. Well-said.
Yep, that sounds about right.Delete