Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Grocery Store To Which You Do Not Go

Terry Pratchett, manufacturer of 34% of the world's wit and awesome, called it "The Shonky Shop".  The cut-rate store where the poor of Ankh-Morpork bought their clothes.  And sometimes, in times or true poverty, they'd sell clothing to the pawn shop next to the Shonky Shop.  Which meant that the pawn store had lots of clothes, and even cheaper than the Shonky Shop, but you never saw anyone buying clothes from the pawn shop, cause that's just TOO low, and you've got to have "Stannards".  Of course, nobody cared to think about where the Shonky Shop bought its clothes...

Every neighborhood has "The poor-people's grocery store".  It's not like you're buying your stuff at the bodega or the sev-eleven, it's a real grocery store; it has aisles, cash registers (well, at least two, even if one is broken) and all.  But there's about it.  It's not a chain (or it's a chain you've never heard of), and more than ten percent of the fluorescent bulbs need replacing.  Maybe there's more generic and store-brand products than brand names.  And somehow...the ethnic section seems just a little bit too large.  You just get the vibe "I shouldn't be here".

When we first moved down to Pennsylvania, there was a store that sold, so help me, damaged food.  Dented cans, day-old bread, and water-damaged boxes of breakfast cereal.  No, truly, there was nothing wrong with those groceries - they just couldn't (OK, wouldn't) be sold by a proper grocery store because no sane person would do so.  The box of the Froot Loops may have been all warped and bubbly after being wet and then dried, but the foil or plastic bag inside was still sealed and safe, if a bit musty-smelling for a while after you opened the box.  And people WERE buying them.  But I just couldn't bring myself to do so, great deal or not.  Cause, again, you got to have Stannards.

Another chain, very popular down here, touts itself as having the lowest prices of any national chain.  And that may be, but it's like trying to compare mattress prices - no two stores have the exact same products, so you can't compare, you should forgive the obvious cliche, apples to apples.  They don't seem to carry a single brand name product.  Everything is their own store brand or some never-heard-of-it off brand, with names kind of like actual products but not quite.  You almost expect the names of the actual things to be spelled wrong, like "egs" or "melk"; knockoffs of the actual produce.  And it's all in huge month-supply bags (boxes are expensive), because welfare people buy all their food at once and live off it like ants in the winter.  Again, I ran from the place feeling like I should wash.

Now, I can go the other direction and point to chains like Whole Foods and Food Emporium, that try to make themselves seem like a higher-class store with snob appeal, and charge accordingly higher prices, because clearly these are better products. Look, a hand-lettered sign for the apples - that's the sign of caring, that is. (hint - the sign comes printed that way)  OK, yeah, they do get better produce, but explain how their house brand elbow macaroni.gets to cost twice as much as the place down the street when odds are it's all made by the same company?

It's amazing how much a broom and a bit of marketing will make you feel one place deserves your business and one deserves a visit by a bunch of drug-sniffing dogs.

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