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The Breakdown:

"Superdupermarkets"--or whatever you call the ginormous grocery stores that keep opening in Santa Cruz.

By Jessica Lussenhop

There is not, as yet, an industry standard name for the type of store that has, in the last several months, gobbled up thousands of square feet throughout the county. "We used to call them 'combination stores,'" says David Livingston, a supermarket analyst at DLJ Research in Wisconsin. "Now it's very ordinary."

We're talking, of course, about the casinolike grocery stores that pack steam trays of prepared foods in with vitamin and fitness aisles, endless wine sections and gleaming stacks of freshly butchered fish and meat--and draw crowds with the frenzy of a summer vacation destination. The 21,000-square-foot New Leaf location on the Westside is still described as a "neighborhood market," Safeway's 60,000-square-foot behemoth is a "lifestyle" store, and Whole Food has joined the fray with its "all under one roof" market model in both its 23,000- and 31,500-square-foot locations in Santa Cruz and Capitola. Altogether, that's 135,500 square feet of amusement park-style shopping--or 3.11 acres of gourmet goodies. "People see Santa Cruz as a increasingly upscale market," says Chamber of Commerce executive director Bill Tysseling. "People who don't have money just don't live here."

Retail strategist Bruce Cohen at Kurt Salmon Associates in San Francisco says that these megastores were in the works years before the economic crash, when keeping up with the competish was all that mattered, and it will be interesting to see who survives in the long run. "Consumer purchase habits have changed. Some of the prepared food has not done as well," he says. "We're still time-starved, but our wallets are even more starved."

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