Customers shop at the Aldi grocery store at 6925 Durand
(Photo: Mark Hertzberg / for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

No-frills discount grocer Aldi is remodeling most of its southeastern Wisconsin stores, sprucing them up as the growing chain seeks to enhance its position in a competitive market.

Aldi will spend $37 million on 23 stores here, or about $1.6 million per store, over the next two and a half years.

The effort will brighten older stores that can be on the grim side, raising ceilings by as much as six feet, providing more natural light and, in some cases, adding a bit more space. Recently built stores already have the new look.

In the aisles, meanwhile, Aldi is bolstering its fresh produce, bakery and dairy sections, and continuing to add organic fruits and vegetables.

The work here is part of a nationwide effort that some analysts view as a bid by Aldi to broaden its customer base.

“I think what they’re trying to do is retain the customer that they have, and that’s certainly an income-constrained shopper, but also expand a little bit to reach more of a middle-income shopper as well,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago’s McMillanDoolittle.

Stern toured a new-format Aldi this year and came away impressed.

“They’re warmer,” he said. “There are nicer graphics, there’s more natural light. So it’s just kind of a nicer-feeling shopping experience than you had before.”

Aldi stores are small — about as big as a Walgreens, and less than a fourth the size of a large supermarket. An Aldi in Wisconsin typically has 10,000 to 11,000 square feet of sales floor space. Expansions, where they occur, will take the number no higher than 12,000 square feet, said Atty McGrath, vice president of the chain’s Oak Creek-based division.

The stores run lean. Shoppers bag their own groceries — with their own bags. Aldi’s private-label goods, which make up the great majority of the merchandise, have multiple bar codes to speed checkout. Employees don’t have to chase down grocery carts in the parking lot because shoppers pay…