“Do you want a tour of the cheese section?”
Frank looked at me like I was nuts. No, he did not want a tour of the cheese aisle, nor was he particularly interested in the olive bar. I couldn’t believe it. How could he not be charmed by the olive oil dipping station, or be charmed by the little local touches on the chalkboards. Were these prices on store-made sauce not insanely good? The free samples of shrimp salad not delicious? Wasn’t the little cow-car that collects the carts not adorable?
For the first time ever, it occurred to me that not everyone loves grocery stores as much as I do.
I still have a hard time believing this.
It’s not like I fall in love with every Waldbaum’s or Stop & Shop (though I certainly have my favorites), but instead I have a slight love affair with my holy trilogy of Stew Leonard’s, Trader Joe’s and Fairway. I suppose if I lived upstate, I’d share my friends’ loyalty to Wegman’s. And I definitely have stepped into a Piggly Wiggly just to check out what’s going on. I make notes when I go to Publix…
I want to say I don’t know how to explain it. I barely even cook (as evidenced by the fact that apparently my stove was out of commission for a month before I realized it …), but there’s something about these higher-end shops that I just fall in love with.
Like most things, I blame my mom. She loves food shopping, and makes a point to take people to her favorite one of all – Stew Leonard’s. She describes it as a mini-Disney World for adults. While I think that may be pushing it, I can see her point. If you have to go food shopping – you may as well make it fun. And for some people, animatronic dancing Chiquita bananas fit that bill. Going food shopping is how I spend time with mom. It’s something we can do over the weekend that’s productive and sometimes fun.
I love these store’s commitment to customer service. I love local touches in my neighborhood Trader Joe’s and that the sign says “5 items or fewer.” I love the selection of cheeses and the olive oil tasting station at Fairway. I love the free samples and lobster rolls at Stew Leonard’s. I love that all three places hire good people and consistently win “best places to work” awards.
And I love the twist on a classic. All of these places want to be where you shop (and spend big money) on groceries. And I love the creativity and thought that goes in to differentiating themselves. Why you should shop there instead of the local supermarket. The commitment to quality, and often to local producers. I like learning about how they motivate employees and what they do to keep prices fair, but continue to grow and flourish in a competitive market — all without resorting to crazy coupon schemes. People don’t shop at these places because they are the best deal — but because they feel like they are getting the best for a good deal.
So, I guess I could see why someone wouldn’t love grocery shopping, and instead get their stuff online or on the way home from work. But … I’m not one of them.
In fact, I would probably expect to see some “highlight” tours of my favorite grocery stores very soon!
Do you have a weird obsession with something that other people as mundane? What are you nerdy/passionate about?