by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - New Wilsonville Albertsons Store Director Don McNeeley previously headed a West Linn store. He comes to Wilsonville tasked with better connecting with the community. It’s the community connections that make Don McNeeley’s job a pleasure instead of a burden.

Now, the new store director at the Wilsonville Albertsons supermarket is looking to bring his well-honed ability to engage with people to bear on a new market. Opened to fanfare in 2004, the store was well received but ran into twin hurdles consisting of the Great Recession and the 2011 opening of Fred Meyer directly across the street.

Now, the company is trying to mount a comeback by getting back to basics.

“They wanted me to be very involved with the community,” said McNeeley, who previously headed the West Linn Albertsons and a Milwaukie store prior to that. “Albertsons has traditionally been a community grocer, and they felt like there was an opportunity to get involved with the community and showcase some of the new stuff we’re doing with our pricing; there’s a lot to it.”

Brought on board to take over the Wilsonville store barely a month ago, McNeeley wants local residents to once again feel like they must shop there.

And it’s an admittedly difficult task, given the ongoing corporate shuffle that has seen the Albertsons name change hands several times over the past year.

Most recently, Cerberus Capital Management announced the purchase of Albertsons stores from SuperValu in January, giving the former majority control over the company. The two companies had originally partnered in 2006 with CVS Corporation in a three-way purchase of the struggling Albertsons chain.

Adding to the complexity, the Albertsons LLC — a separate, Cerberus-owned company altogether — now holds sole ownership of the “Albertsons” name. It is run by former Albertsons executives and also owns the Jewel-Osco, Acme and the Shaw’s/Star Market chains in various parts of the United States.

These changes have largely transpired in roughly the past year and have led to questions in the grocery industry about the future of Albertsons entirely.

But McNeeley insists the latest restructuring is finally what the company needs to regain the footing it has lost in Wilsonville and other metro area markets.

“It’s common knowledge that we’ve changed hands again, and it’s a very positive thing,” McNeeley said. “We’re competing in the market again and we want to do the right things for our customers. We’ve focused on getting the stores clean and getting service right, pricing right, all the basic stuff a grocery store does.”

Longtime Wilsonville resident Karen Lowrie for many years helped the Lowrie family run an IGA supermarket that sat along the Wilsonville Road where the Wilsonville Albertsons now anchors a small mall.

The family still owns the property and has an obvious interest in having Albertsons succeed. She said the 2011 opening of the Wilsonville Fred Meyer directly across Boones Ferry Road from Albertsons took its toll on the latter.

Now, Lowrie hopes McNeeley and other new staff can infuse Albertsons with the energy needed for a comeback.

“We’re really excited,” she said. “They want to get involved in the community, and that’s great; that’s what the Lowries did when our grocery store was there.”

For McNeeley, who has now worked for the company for more than 20 years, it’s certainly no stretch.

“Our major focus is on being competitive and enhancing customer experience,” he said. “If we’re not doing something to work toward those, we’re working on the wrong things. I’ve got marching orders here on the top things, and every single one of them has to do with customer-focused initiatives. We want legendary customer service.”

Born and raised in eastern Oregon, McNeeley worked for the chain for nine years in Pendleton before moving west to the metro area in 2001. He now lives in Happy Valley with his wife, Stephanie, a mail carrier in Wilsonville, and the couple’s two teenage children.

He hopes to first partner with Wilsonville schools.

“Schools would be my first priority,” he said. “Elementary, middle school, high school, it doesn’t matter. We’d like to work with churches or food banks also.”

McNeeley also welcomes input from customers.

“For me, I believe in running an operation basically like I own it, so it’s all first-person management,” he said. “Good, bad, ugly or indifferent, if customers want to talk, I’m available and I’m approachable.”

Reintegrating the company back into the heart of the community may take time. But it’s not as if the store ever left completely —the Kids Fun Run, where Albertsons has annually provided thousands of meals to participants, is just one example.

McNeeley wants to build on that.

“I know that our reputation in the community is tarnished a little bit,” McNeeley said. “But we appreciate all of our customers and we welcome more of them.”

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