What ever happened to the corner grocery store?
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I often marvel at the mega food stores scattered around the country, be it a Super Walmart, Publix, Kroger, or whatever. They’re a lot different than the corner grocery markets I used to frequent when I was a kid. Back then “the corner store” had everything the people in the neighborhood needed. Why? Because the shopkeepers knew their neighbors and catered to their needs. It’s substantially different today as you enter stores that could easily serve as a hangar for a Boeing 747 with massive parking lots that Disney would be proud of.
Behind the store, trucks and railroad cars deliver merchandise around the clock for eager consumers who quickly whisk them away. The charm of the neighborhood store has been sacrificed for an abundant inventory which helps to drive prices down. Now, instead of buying just one or two roles of Bounty paper towels, we now purchase a case at a time. We’ve gone from six-packs to 18-packs or cases, all in a perpetual chase to realize the nirvana of cost savings. Instead of a couple of shopping bags, we now think in terms of the maximum cargo capacity of our automobiles, all of which encourages a gluttonous form of behavior.
The weekends represent the busiest time to visit the mega stores, particularly in the northern snow belt where a visit turns into an all-day outing. Such stores go well beyond mere groceries. Today there is a pharmacy, a food court or restaurant, banking, dentistry, gasoline, beauticians, jewelry, furniture, even automobiles. All of this seems rather excessive when all you really wanted was nothing more than a loaf of bread or a half gallon of milk.
I’m not convinced people truly like going to these stores. It’s more of “I have to go” as opposed to “I want to go” type of attitude. In particular, women worry about their looks as they will undoubtedly run into someone from their neighborhood or school. Men tend to be in awe of such establishments and wander aimlessly around the store looking at all the eye-candy (both merchandise and women). They tend to wear a dazed zombie-like expression on their face as they push their carts aimlessly around the store bumping into whatever gets in their way. Their distraction leads them to buy two of everything. It’s all rather amusing.
I must confess I am not a big fan of the mega stores and go there only if I absolutely have to, preferring smaller stores if I can find them. If I must go, I try to go at an offbeat hour to avoid the throngs of people. I have found early in the morning is a good time, such as 6:00am. My wife and I have also gone on a Friday or Saturday night when everyone else is out for dinner or a movie. Actually, I have found a lot of middle-aged people like this time as it is much less hectic. I always thought the stores were missing out on a golden opportunity by not catering to this class of people. For example, they could hire a DJ and play music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s which would put shoppers in a good mood and encourage them to shop more. I can see it now, people dressing up and explaining to their offspring, “We’re off to boogie at Publix.”
Most of the time though, I just need some basic groceries, such as bread, milk, juice, eggs, or cereal. If I have to go to a mega store for this, I plan an Entebbe-like raid where I have a driver circling the parking lot while I try to get in and out of there as fast as possible. I inevitably get slowed down in the “10 items or less” checkout line where a clod mistakenly unloads a full cart. Maybe this only happens to me.
What I would really prefer is a simple “drive thru” store which has all of the basics. I wouldn’t have to even get out of my car as the attendant could load it in my trunk. Up north, there are “drive thrus” for beer and wine which I always thought was a brilliant idea. Even pharmacies have picked up the idea and successfully implemented it. So why not groceries as well? Since the mega stores have crushed the neighborhood stores, why not add a “drive thru” lane to at least make it convenient. Heck, they could even wash and gas-up your car for you while they’re at it. It’s the very least they could do for us.
Keep the Faith!