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Express Lane To Happiness

August 20, 2012

“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?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2012 11:57 am

    i am so glad i set you down the path of interest in wine food and fun! when you can’t go to disney for the day or even a museum – this will do sometimes. I love when the 3 of us are together and even when frank comes and tries to make it more reality based. yea for lobster salad samples~

  2. DRomanell permalink
    August 21, 2012 1:55 pm

    I’ve always found an environment exciting where experiencing something new was encouraged, even if that place was the cheese aisle at the local Fairway. My wife and I were on the edge of our seats for several months waiting for said Fairway to move in to the isolated space that was once the home of Pathmark. When a business, big or small, takes the time to present themselves in the best possible light, and has the history and reputation to back it up, it catches my attention.

    Do I shop at the Fairway because they claim to have the freshest produce, delicious soups and widest variety of artisanal cheeses? No. It’s because they DO. And when employees are as excited about promoting these items as I am in consuming them, it just makes the experience much more satisfying. I want to come back. I want to give them my money.

    The details always count for me, even if it’s choosing one brand of oil-cured olive over another. It’s personal. And I’m fine if not everyone gets that.

    • August 21, 2012 3:55 pm

      Yes! And I think you really hit the nail on the head. I love the excitement of the employees, the attention to detail and the experiencing of something new. I love that grocery shopping can be a transformative experience, and that I get to sample a bit of that every time I open my fridge.

  3. August 21, 2012 2:52 pm

    So glad you’re back!

    I love this piece and learned something new about you! (Also, super fun headline). I think it’s awesome that you and your mom continue this tradition, it makes me wonder about what Logan will remember when he gets older. And if you love food shopping that much, please feel free to come take care of mine anytime. 🙂 Walking through the aisles with all the choices is so difficult for me if I don’t have a list. There are so many choices about I will become so undecisive about what to make, and stroll aimlessly for hours.

    As for my nerdy obsession, hmm. I love to read collections of letters between people. I didn’t think it was that odd but based on my sister and cousin’s reaction to the hefty 800-page collection of letters between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz that is currently on my dresser, I’m guessing it’s not very normal. And it was only the first volume. I also love to read journals and memoirs, but I’m thinking that’s more normal. (It is, right?)

  4. September 24, 2012 2:49 pm

    fyi… I found your blog via Alison Green’s Ask a Manager. I’m really enjoying it!

    My husband and I dearly love grocery stores. We visit at least two to three every weekend and although we shop from a very strict list, we like to wander around and look at everything. I went into a new-to-me Whole Foods recently and was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the produce.

    I’m passionate about taking my pantry items out of their bags or boxes and putting them in their own attractive containers. It makes me happy every time I’m in the kitchen!

    • October 5, 2012 11:51 am

      Hi! Thanks so much for commenting. Sorry it took me so long to approve. I can’t wait to hear about your latest meat-free grocery finds.

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