LOWER MANHATTAN — Hundreds of hungry shoppers poured into Downtown's sprawling new Key Food for its soft opening Wednesday — marking the launch of the brand's first upscale grocery store in Manhattan.
Customers at the new store, called 55 Fulton Market, lined up for freshly made pizza and sushi, filled baskets with organic produce and perused the international beer and cheese selections.
"Oh my God, I think I died and went to heaven," said Linda Salas, who lives in New Jersey but works and grocery shops in Lower Manhattan.
Salas was most impressed by the fresh meat and fish counters, and she also looked forward to eating the salmon dish she picked up in the prepared-food section.
The 24-hour grocery store, in the base of Southbridge Towers at 55 Fulton St., is more than five times bigger than the old 3,500-square-foot Key Food just to the west, which shuttered when the new supermarket opened.
Customers enter 55 Fulton Market on an open ground floor that features organic and specialty items in a setup similar to Whole Foods, with pizza, sushi, coffee and deli counters and hot and cold salad bars.
"We're going to be a full-scale organic gourmet market," Sharmain John, a manager at the new store, said last month. "It will be one of the best."
Downstairs from the entrance is a more traditional grocery store, with a butcher, a fresh-fish counter and wide aisles featuring everything from paper towels to tomato sauce.
Those who don't want to wait to munch on their purchases can eat at a second-floor seating area overlooking Fulton Street or at outdoor tables in front of the store's entrance.
"It's great — it really enhances the neighborhood," said Wally Dimson, president of the Southbridge Towers board of directors, who had already visited the supermarket twice as of Wednesday afternoon. "It's not just for Southbridge. It's something we needed on the east side of Lower Manhattan for a long time."
Bella Mauro, 35, a John Street resident who was shopping with her 7-month-old son Wednesday, said she was glad to finally have one store where she could buy everything, rather than searching several different stores for organic products.
"It just rocks," Mauro said. "It's great to have."
Some elderly Southbridge residents, though, complained that some prices were too high, especially in the organic section, and they were upset that they had to go downstairs to find basic groceries.
"It's the stupidest setup I've ever seen in my life," said a woman who walked with a cane and said she has lived in Southbridge for more than 40 years.
The woman, who declined to give her name, pointed to a package of $5.99 Bartolini pasta as an example of items those on fixed incomes could not afford.
"You think the old people here are going to eat sushi?" she added. "It's ridiculous."
Other shoppers, though, were glad to see that 55 Fulton Market offered sale items, with initial promotions including two cans of tuna for $3 and instant Kraft macaroni-and-cheese for 75 cents.
And most of the customers said the store was an improvement on the old Key Food, which had just half an aisle for fresh produce and only three checkout lines.
"It's nice," said Robin Levine, who grew up in Southbridge and was shopping for her elderly mother, who still lives there. "It's way better than it used to be."
The new 55 Fulton Market, 55 Fulton St., is now open 24 hours. The store will hold a grand opening Aug. 17.