January 30, 2001

Tops Partners With Cornell

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Tops Supermarket has taken localized business to a new level. The grocery store has formed a partnership with Cornell with hopes of creating a familiar shopping environment, complete with a Big Red Theme.

The Tops Cornell Store opened Nov. 3 on Triphammer Rd. near Pyramid Mall, yet the story of this supermarket began two years earlier. Tops wanted to expand on the idea of surrounding communities partnering with their local market. Since Cornell has such a large influence on Ithaca and outside communities, the choice seemed natural.

A similar experiment was implemented at Clemson University in South Carolina by Bilo supermarket, another chain owned by Royal Ahold, the Dutch company which also owns Tops and several large chain supermarkets in the eastern United States. The success that the Clemson Bilo store generated led Tops to engineer their own localized university supermarket in Ithaca.

“We were contacted by Tops who simply said they wanted to celebrate and salute Cornell with a University decorated store,” said John C. Gutenberger, director of Cornell community relations. “We were so pleased that a member of not only the business community, but a member of the surrounding community showed such interest. We were honored and flattered that the community wanted to salute the University.”

Jim Thornton, manager of the Tops Cornell Store, stressed the importance of integrating regional tastes and community identities to the grocery store business.

“Local universities represent communities,” he said. “Supermarket businesses are local, competition is localized and really you are competing for local flavor and taste. The Big Red Decor helps set us apart from our competition, all the while creating this familiar environment.”

The store decor varies from aisle markers that not only label each aisle, but also depict different sport names accompanied by the University mascot, to large full color Cornell murals placed decoratively around the store.

Along with aisle markers and window displays “there are eight murals around the store and each mural represents that particular department. For example the mural in the dairy department is of a Cornell dairy scene,” said Thornton.

Although a new supermarket might not seem monumental to students, the idea of a supermarket dedicated to Cornell provoked positive responses.

“It’s great that we have something in central Ithaca that illustrates our school spirit. I think just by decorating the aisle signs gives Cornell publicity and glorifies the athletics. Local support for a local school that’s a powerhouse at the national level — it unifies the town,” Tom Mendez ’03 said.

University logos, mascots, and photos are all copyrighted so Tops had to purchase the rights for each.

“Tops went through the process after its initial proposal. Ideas were accepted, rejected and some were modified. The proposal went through senior administration and it gave its approval,” Gutenberger said.

The Tops Cornell Store even hires some students, working around their availability which usually means nights and weekends for these Ivy League students.

Archived article by Julia Macdonald