The grocery chain out here in burb-ville is Stop and Shop. There are a few assorted upscale spots as well (Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Balducci’s), but I’m definitely too j.v. for those places so far. I mention the Stop and Shop because it’s the first situation in the non-city that I simultaneously love and hate. Both. All at once. Contradiction, yes. True dat? Yes ma’am.
Here’s what I love about the suburban grocery store:
• That place is ENDless. Like David Bowie’s Labrinth, my appetite for Baked Cheetos, and our family’s To Do list… endless. There’s an entire aisle of seltzer water. And a Starbucks. What?! “Excuse me, do you have lowfat semi-sweet Oreo® crumbs and organic rosemary infused gnocchi? Aisle 12? Great, thanks.” (Point of clarification: they don’t always carry Baked Cheetos, ironic, huh?)
• There are crazy cool gadgets. They not only have self-scanners (which I LOVE because it makes me feel important and tech-savvy to scan my own stuff), but little wands that you bring with you as you shop so you can scan as you go. How cool is that? You scan the item, pop it in your reusable shopping bag and bang, done. In the produce section, you can weigh your own produce and print out a bar code; again, in an admittedly pathetic way, I very much enjoy this.
• Did I mention they have everything? Today I needed a light bulb, and there was 1/2 an aisle to choose from. I bought our fireworks here for the 4th of July (for anyone who’s counting, another point in the burb column, as fireworks are totally legal here). Rows and rows of sunblock, check. Toys, yep. Glorious cleaning products as far as the eye can see, done. DVDs and books, got ’em. I’m enjoying a bowl of Red Velvet Cake ice cream as I write this; I mean, the city would NEVER have something so obsolete on their limited shelf space!
• Guilt-free carts. For anyone who’s ever dared to use a cart in a city market, you know what I’m talking about. With aisles no wider than the distance between my couch and my coffee table, using a cart is an affront to the city shopping community. In the burbs, carts are not just expected, but they’re pimped out. Bringing kids then use the car shaped cart. Want to grab a chai latte then use the cart with a drink holder. Feeling a little fatigued then use the motorized cart. Of course, once you’ve filled your cart, you also get to unload your loot directly into your car. All of this magnificence means you don’t need to go to the grocery store every 6 hours, like you do in the city. Delightful.
But it’s not all bon bons and lilies (incidentally both of which are available at the Stop and Shop). Here’s what I’m still getting used to and occasionally heard to be muttering about:
• It’s too freakin’ big. To go from produce to the frozen foods section, requires a water break and an energy bar. The bakery section alone is bigger than every NYC apartment I’ve ever rented.
• It’s confusing. I know there are large labeled signs hanging above every aisle, but I still don’t get it. There’s a deli-section with cold cuts, but there’s also sliced ham over by the yogurt. There’s an organic section across from the bread, but there are also organic things mixed in with the regular ol’ tainted food on the shelves in other aisles. Seasonal items are in the middle of the store, but things like BBQ sauce and marshmallows aren’t necessarily with the “summer grill” stuff. I leave the store exhausted from trying to crack their shelving code.
• Without willpower, you’re dead in the water. I go in with a list of 12 items, and come out with 6 full bags. (Another aside, I get money back when I use my own bags… maybe 25¢, but that counts for something.) Partly because I have a cart half the size of our mini-van, and partly because I have a kitchen bigger than my arm-span in which to store things. Last weekend I came away with 4 boxes of cornstarch (for the kids’ crafts and all), 24 bottles of Gatorade, and marshmallow fluff. The latter was for Eleanor because she’s such a picky eater, I figured she might like it… and if I happen to snack on it with some peanut butter every so often, what’s the big deal.
• Shopping is no longer a hobby, it’s now a full-time job; it takes forever. I’m hopeful that one day I will learn the ins and outs of the Stop and Shop floor plan, but for now I just wander aimlessly with a confused look on my face and my tattered grocery list in hand. I don’t have a system yet, so I’m the one fumbling with my shopping bags, my scanner, my card, and my list (I am clearly not ready to attempt shopping with a coffee yet).
I still opt for delivery when I can as then I just power through my list without tempting fate with the snack aisle or the candy aisle or the beer aisle. However, on those days when our pantry is bare and someone just needs to brave the grocery frontier, I lace up my running shoes, load up on carbs and visualize the shopping mission. Some days are better than others, but that’s life in the burbs, right?