Friday, 30 August 2019 15:33

COLUMN: Super supermarket short on service

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There was a time when I enjoyed grocery shopping. My wife and I always went together and we always had a good time. I know that sounds weird, but we did in fact have a good time at the grocery store.  I mean, it wasn't like nightclub on the Vegas strip exciting, but we always managed to have a little fun. 

No one particularly likes running household errands, but we tried our best to make it a little more lively. In our grocery store in Maryland, there was none of that boring Muzak piped in while you shopped. It might have been the Muzak service, but it was a lot of the popular hits we liked when we were a little younger. Once in a great while, we would do a little dance step in the frozen foods and I would twirl my wife around as best as I could without getting noticed by other shoppers. We knew most of the staff by face if not by name, so it was always a bit of a social outing as well.

Our little town here in the east has been invaded by a behemoth. One of the big chains has opened its largest store here in our town. There was a big to-do when it opened and they made a loud claim that it was the largest store in its chain. It is quite large. Well, maybe “large” is not the correct word. I consulted my old friend Roget for any suggestions. No word seemed to be adequate. Expansive wasn't enough, and sounded much like expensive, which the store certainly is. Grand wasn't a word that would be used to describe a supermarket. You could say that “super” in front of “market” would work, but that would imply that the store is super in a good way. Sure, it's big, but it's too big. This place looks like if you took the shelves out, you could land a 747 inside. 

The supermarket has a bar, where you can get a beer or a glass of wine while you shop. You can't walk around with your beverage, but once you finish a few, you can walk around tipsy. There is a sushi train, which is not at all what I imagined a sushi train looking like. It's not a train at all, but a continuous conveyor belt of color-coded containers of sushi. The color of the container is matched up to a chart to tell you how much your sushi costs. Imagine combining trendy Japanese cuisine and the board game Candy Land and you get the idea. 

There is a burger bar that costs more than a fast food restaurant. There are gourmet burgers and truffle fries. I tried the truffle fries one afternoon and I suppose they were good, but I don't know what truffle fries are supposed to taste like. They could have been the worst truffle fries on the planet and this columnist would have had no idea. For $12, you can get a small lobster, a potato, and corn. I'm not sure if I got a small lobster or a big crayfish. For $12, I got a decent baked potato, passable corn and a crayfish in a lobster suit. There is a smoothie bar and a pizza bar and an Asian food bar and a salad bar. There is a hot food bar that has all the stuff that didn't fit on any of the other bars. 

I know all this stuff is supposed to make the shopping experience more inclusive. I don't want to be more inclusive. I want to go in, buy my Charmin, and leave. What it has done is make the shopping experience more exclusive and less inclusive. The store offers a personal shopper. I get the concept if you are buying a Savile Row suit. I'd prefer to pick out my own produce, thank you. I know what I like and what I don't like. I don't need a stranger picking out my groceries. 

What all this grandeur has done is killed customer service. The store has so many amenities and so many little niches that the staff wander around like worker bees and are trying so hard to be efficient, they seem to forget that people actually shop. 

Another store, much smaller, nearby, seems to go out of the way to take care of customers. While they don't have 100 different hot food bars, they make a point to make sure the customer comes first. 

The supermarket behemoth has a lot of stuff. You can get just about anything you would want there. Except humanity.


Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he (usually) writes on the lighter side of family life.