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Grocery Store Ambiance......

Love to shop at Fresh Market....like the lighting, the wood floors.....only really go for one or two items ...too pricey.....same for Whole Paycheck......like them, but upon checkout usually frightened....For the bigger box Supermarkets Harris Teeter (the newer ones) seems the best...a little more pricey than Lowes., who seem to be trying with their new format stores....Food Kitty, Kroger........usually dishevelled, unkempt.....too bright...Handy Hugo's/Piggly wiggly on steroids....only shop for non edibles....
Love Trader Joe's products, pricing....but I feel like its always either a track meet or a singles bar on Saturday night....hit or miss in stocks......Super Walmart/Super Target/Sams/BJ's......."you need any tires to go with that 5 pound bag of frozen broccoli"?.............

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  1. I for one will not pay extra to shop in a store for the "ambiance", just not my thing. Harris Teeter runs some nice stores, they are always very clean and well stocked, but their prices keep me away most of the time. Lowes Foods is a Harris Teeter wannabe, They will build a nice store and not maintain it, or update it for more than a decade, really sad (I worked for them), terrible corporate management, inconsistent quality from store to store. Too bad because their in store staff works their tails off but with bad corporate direction.

    Give me food lion any day (especially the one in Morrisville @ Park Place), very clean, well stocked (although very basic), and affordable.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bakeman

      I find it very frustrating that in order to fully satisfy my "ideal" shop .....that I might have to incorporate several stores/formats.....ie bulk toilettries, BJ's/Walmart.....staples....both Trader Joe's, and Harris Teeter/Lowes....I live near Fuquay, and the Kroger is abysmal.......all the Krogers that I've seen in the Triangle have been weak.....Whole Paycheck is hit or miss.....quite frankly I find myself going to Trader Joe's, HT and either Walmart,or BjJs to complete my shopping list.....I think that if money was no object the venues might change........to the extent that Fresh market , and Whole Paycheck might incorporate a larger role due to their "ambiance".........Trader Joe's might get cycled in more ....particularly if I was more flush , and on the make.....

    2. There are at least 3 Krogers in easy driving distance, and the quality and cleanliness vary from store to store. The closest one often has unwrapped meats in their meat section and spills on the floor. The furthest is unoragnized so things are hard to find. But the one in the middle has a nice produce section, good deli with Boar's Head meats, and quality seafood and meat departments.

      The closest Food Lion is such a disaster that they have armed security and close at 10pm. But there's another just one exit down the highway that is gorgeous.

      1. I really miss shopping at supermarkets in Bolivia. Just after the cart rack is the beer cooler. Pop a top on an icy cold Ducal beer, leisurely shop and put the empty can on the turn belt. Ahhh!

        22 Replies
        1. re: Passadumkeg

          Boy, you talk about ambiance! Where oh where can you do that in the US?
          They have some laundries that sell drinks, don't they?
          I like to eat chips and shop. If only there were a Long Trail to go with that....I could spend hours there.

          1. re: Scargod

            Scargod, I wonder. They have cold beer in Stop and Shop, I wonder if a person 'would' be stopped if they took one of the cans/bottles to use as fortitude against the cell phone users/aisle blockers? If they had cold martinis, I might be tempted.

            As to ambience, again it's funny. Our local Stop and Shop is remodelling, per the Whole Foods model. They are making the bins that hold the watermelon out of nice wood and updating the olive bar. Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, imo.

            It is what it is. Then again, around here, that don't fly.

            Nope, since the new voe rich in Westchester like to eat while they shop, Stop and Shop has put in tables now. That way, the cell phone users can sit and eat and talk and whatever else it is they do at Whole Foods.

            Well, at least Stop and Shop hasn't instituted paying for parking, so I'll just get my groceries, get checked out, talk to the checker and bagger, and be on my way.

            No doubt paying more at the checkout to accomodate those who want to talk and eat and have their watermelons housed in a better crate.

              1. re: dolores

                Why never mind? I agree you are paying for ambiance that I am not interested in, either. Perhaps they are trying for the European ambiance; like a mini-vacation (in your head) when you walk in the store. Sorts deja vu/flashback euphoria.
                I bet they could pay for someone's wages, with the veggies they toss, if they did it like in Europe and had someone to wait on you (much like at the deli counter in SnS) and they'd swat at your hand with a stick if you tried to touch anything. Nah, that wouldn't work...especially in Texas. Someone would be likely to get their head blown off. Just kidding (sorta).
                Where ya' been Delores? I haven't seen much out of you since we last got spanked by the Mod Squad.

                1. re: Scargod

                  Wow .... does some store somewhere charge for parking, Dolores, or was that just a worst-case-scenario? Hey - if you're in Westchester County, that could happen!

                  Supermarket ambiance is, occasionally, important to me too, but I can overlook a lot of things in the name of paying reasonable prices. Here in TX we've got everything from the grubby (Fiesta) to the sublime (Central Market) and of course our share of WholeFoods and Krogers. We also have Randalls, which once upon a time set the standard for service and selection. Now they are owned by Safeway, and the "safeway attitude" is all too present. Their prices are aligned with Kroger.

                  Earlier this year the Central Market in Houston was resurfacing its parking lot, so they offered free valet parking. Im sure the cost of this (and the new parking lot) was reflected in the prices, but since I dont shop there every week, I don't mind paying a bit extra for my staples, and the pleasant experience of shopping with other foodies who are there for something other than Coke and Pampers.

                  My point is, we have a LOT to choose from here, and there's a big difference even within the same chain. At Fiesta you realize that it takes a family of 6 to buy a 12-pack of Pepsi, but big (12-15) fresh shrimp are $5.99/pound. The Kroger in one zip code is vastly different from the Kroger 5 miles away -- they even have different weekly specials.

                  And may I vent my pet peeve about service? The cashier who asks "Did you find everything OK?" as Im ready to hand over my money and NOW they want to help me find the items that I needed but couldn't find? They'll hold up the line and send the clueless sacker back to look for something ....

                  1. re: Cheflambo

                    Oh yes, Cheflambo. There's the old 'buy something and we'll validate' but the denizens of said parking lot would run over their grandmother for a parking spot. Too stressful for me, thanks.

                    This area is getting better in offerings too, Chef. There will a giant new supermarket next year, and if they don't enclose the parking lot, I will be one happy camper.

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      "The cashier who asks "Did you find everything OK?" as Im ready to hand over my money and NOW they want to help me find the items that I needed but couldn't find?"

                      Oh, thank God! I thought that I was the only one who is peeved by this stupid question when I am about to pay for my groceries. Fortunately, I have come up with an excellent response for which the cashier has no reply. When I am asked, "Did you find everything that you were looking for today?", my response is, "Actually, no. I was seeking world peace, but I failed to find it". Lots of dumb looks and puzzled expressions are the result. The reactions are absolutely priceless, IMHO.

                      1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                        While I agree that such questions are mundane at best, the clerks are nonetheless required by management to ask. Maybe I'm getting old, but I fail to see the humor in your responses. Come on, they're just doing their job. Why mess with them?

                        1. re: marcia

                          I don't find that question bothersome either.

                          It's preferable to saying hello to the checkout person and getting a response of............


                          But even that is preferable to checking myself out.

                        2. re: Ted in Central NJ

                          Come on Ted, why be mean to someone trying to help you? Jfood is appreciative if there was an item he could not find if someone wants to help. But in fairness if jfood needed an item he merely goes to customer service or asks someone stacking the chelves to help.

                          And he would much prefer finding that the widget was in aisle 12 and leave his paid basket at the check-out lane, go buy the widget and then go to express for a 3-minute turnaround versus driving all the way to another store to find the widget.

                          Jfood appreciates people who want to help, not make them feel bad.

                          1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                            Yes, the question is asked at the least opportune time. Most retail stores hire mystery shoppers and that question is generally one that the mystery shoppers are specifically asked about. It is not unusual for a "bad" (ie:not asking the question) shopper review to result in probation or being fired. So yes, most of the cashiers know it is inane, but if saying it keeps them employed...Much of retail is fraught with silliness.

                            1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                              i thought that the "did you find everything" question was so that the customer had an opportunity to give feedback on the general stocking of products in the store? (not on finding something on that particular visit to the store)

                              for example
                              cashier: "did you find everything. . .?"
                              soupkitten: "actually i'm bummed because this store is so close to my home, and i came here for watercress for a salad, but the produce man says you guys are out. it's too bad because i know that grocery x and chain store y are carrying very nice hydroponic watercress from local source abc, so i'll have to make an extra stop today, and i've decided to get the rest of the produce for the meal at their store too, it's usually so pretty!"
                              manager (bagging groceries): "really. local source abc you say? sorry we don't have it today, but i'll ask the produce man to check that out for you. thanks for shopping with us, here's a coupon for your next visit, we appreciate your business."
                              and behold, next time i visit, with my $ off coupon, there's the abc watercress!

                              in other words-- customers who just can't find the bush's baked beans will/should ask customer service or an employee working on the floor-- but the cashier's question has more to do with what the store offers vs. competing stores, and what the customers are requesting/demanding the store carry. i think it's useful in a democratic capitalist demand-supply way, since every customer has a chance to make requests, and it's part of the cashier's job to relay the info to the store's management, so that they can, you know, stock the requested item, to serve the customer better, make profit for the store. . .

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                I think you are correct and it has worked pretty well for me. I have asked and made requests and lo and behold, it shows up in the store. In one case a small liquor store owner that really tries, near me, just needed a little prod to start stocking a bigger range of Sam Adams products. He cleared out space for it and it started moving. Now I can get my Cream Stout there and we're both happy!
                                There still is the wacky situation where they DO have what you want and hold up things while they try to rush and get it. You're like,"don't bother" and they're like, "no..., customer service is job 1", even though it is inconveniencing three or four other customers.

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  I wish it were always so easy, kitten.....For example, when my DH asked our local (Las Vegas) Costco why they didn't carry canned garbanzo beans (Chana masala is his "go to" in a hurry supper, and so he buys the canned beans - shortcut for the "in a hurry" part - by the case). The answer was "Oh, those are a specialty item. We don't carry specialty items at this store." (I guess in the Reno store they aren't considered a specialty, because they were always available there....).

                                  And then there was the time that the local Smith's manager told me that they don't carry my favorite brand of bottled salsa "because we really don't have much demand for Mexican products" (???? Has she noticed the demographics of this town???).

                                  So now I shop at Albertson's when I go to a large chain, which isn't perfect but at least has garbanzos and Salsa Brava and even a few Indian products. Not as nice looking as Von's (no "pretty" produce displays; no wood floors and warm lighting...) but I actually think their selection is better. Now if only they had the checkout counters set up in such a way that you could unload the cart AND watch the scanner at the same time......I find myself waiting to get in line behind someone so I have time to unload while they are paying...that way I don't have to explain to the checkout person why I insist that they wait until my cart is fully unloaded before they start ringing up (I catch mistakes in the scanner almost every visit!)

                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                    janet - very wise to watch the scanner! We had some here in Houston a few years back, and although they were very nice, big as a mini mall, and a wide variety of foods, they were horrible about ringing up the correct prices. You had to watch them very closely. They even had a guarantee that if they over rang then you got the items free, and your money back. If I were a dishonest person I could have used that to my advantage, but I just stopped shopping there. I also didn't like the policy of 2 for $3., but you HAVE to buy 2. Eventually some kind of lawsuit was filed against them, here at least, and they all went away.

                              2. re: Cheflambo

                                It's been a while since I lived in Houston, but say it ain't so that Randalls has lost its patina.
                                Dang, I loved those stores.

                                But the prettiest store with the best prices and awe-inspiring selections was one we found in a new burg in Ontario, east of Burlington and west of Missauqwa (sorry, that's not the right spelling). It was in a new area with townhomes. It was light, airy and the bread section alone had me gawking. Then the meat section.

                                And only when we left did I start muttering to Mr Shallots that how in the heck could Canadian corporations own so many US markets without passing along some of the niceness?

                                1. re: shallots

                                  Share the name with those of us who are close enough to find this mythical store!

                                  (it's Mississauaga that you mean :))

                                  1. re: shallots

                                    I agree with Dani (as always!) I dont miss those Albertson's either, and for the same reason.

                                    Randalls is no longer, really, Randalls ("Your remarkable store"). The decline began as soon as Safeway bought them. That said, Randalls also had the policy of "if the scanner is wrong, the item is free" and I came away with $11 in batteries one day when I had a sharp enough eye to catch the error.

                                  2. re: Cheflambo

                                    There's a supermarket here in Queens (NYC) that has paid parking, and no validating. (Amish Market at Atlas Park for locals.)

                                  3. re: Scargod

                                    Sorry, Scargod, I had posted a dupe of what I said earlier.

                                    I'm here, Scargod. I try to be good. Doesn't always work, but I try. :O)

                                    1. re: dolores

                                      I'm GOOD, but I try to be BAD....Sometimes it works! :')

                                      BTW, cheflamBo: I hate that, too. "Oh, I'm sorry, maybe next time....(we'll get it right) bye-bye!"

                                      1. re: Scargod

                                        "I'm not really bad, I'm just drawn that way." -Jessica Rabbit

                                        sorry, couldn't resist...

                            2. I don't know if I would call it "ambiance", but certainly the cleanliness of a store is very important to me. If the lighting is dim, or the place seems dingy, or worse - there are uncleaned spills, etc. on the floor, I'm not likely to shop there. My reasoning is "If this is the way they treat the public areas, what's going on in the back?".

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: KevinB

                                That's exactly my feeling about restaurants!

                                1. re: KevinB

                                  Oh Kevin, I agree! When the first thing you smell is the whack of ammonia as you walk in, you just KNOW it is covering up something worse! There was a place like this in my neighborhood (Danhole and I were discussing it lrecently) and although it was close, open 24 hours and had VERY cheap prices on stuff, I went in once and would never EVER go back because it was so foul. I drove past it last week and they were closed, boarded up, gone. My guess is that the Board of Health paid them a visit.

                                  And Ted, I will have to remember your response the next time the cashier asks if I found everything I was looking for ... its a classic!

                                  1. re: Saddleoflamb

                                    Again, I fail to see the humor in "confusing" someone who is merely trying to do his or her job.

                                    1. re: Saddleoflamb

                                      Why is that when they ask paper or plastic, it is then that I remember that I left my jute bags in the car?

                                      1. re: Saddleoflamb

                                        They are actually HDPE or "polyethylene".

                                        1. re: Scargod

                                          Not for Greenie Granola here. Ours are jute and HEMP! Now put that in your pipe and smoke it! Gee, I think I just figured out why, I can't remember to take them into the store. Far out!

                                        2. re: Cheflambo

                                          You know Chef, I was thinking about that place after we drove by it last night. It really was a shame how that went so far downhill. It used to be owned by Al and was across the street from our apartment complex. It was a clean, friendly, small place that gave green stamps out (double on Tues., I think). Everyone knew you by your first name. The selection was limited, but good enough. After Al died it got sold to this family, and they moved and expanded it. Good specials at first, then the smell set in. Like rotting meat. UGH! And I knew the family - they were nice folks, but what the heck went wrong? Did they sell it to someone else or what?

                                          That is my deal breaker with a grocery store. You can be an old store, even a bit dingy, but if there is ANY smell, other than fresh bread baking, I'm outta there!

                                          1. re: danhole

                                            I drove past again Friday and I wondered what might become of Foodland. I thought for sure the "foot traffic" was keeping the place open, but I guess it just wasn't profitable. There's no sign that anything else is going in there, and I'd sure hate to see that building stand empty too long. If I had my 'druthers, I'd hope for a nice clean upscale Central Market/HEB hybrid. But its probably not big enough, and would have to be torn down first. I'd love to see a nice gourmet market (even Rice Epicurian) in 77018.

                                            I often visit the Fiesta on N. Shepherd @ 23rd, and although they slapped a new facade on it last year, and rearranged the merchandise inside, its still, well, an old Fiesta. No bad smells, however, and the selection of skankwear out front was considerably reduced by the renovation.

                                            And speaking of ambience, I did my weekly shopping at the Randalls @ Shepherd and Westheimer yesterday -- a very pleasant experience. Its a Flagship, so they have a greeter, fancy cooking toys section and custom roasting "nut bar" (insert joke here). This is the only Randalls in town where I dont feel the presence of the Safeway "attitude". There's always someone around to help you find what you want, and everyone is VERY friendly and (gasp!) speaks English. This, to me, is worth the higher price I might pay for a few things. And honestly, I feel safer there than WITH the ubiquitous security guy who patrols the parking lot at Fiesta.

                                      2. I do not pay attention to "ambiance" in regards to a grocery store. As long as they have good produce, the other items I want, and are clean. That is all I care about.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          swsidejim, it's a boondoggle, a form of three card monty.

                                          While eveyone is oohing and ahhhing at the new houses for the watermelon and the tables and chairs at the new and improved Stop and Shop, no one will take notice of the increase in prices to cover these 'improvements'.

                                          Good for Stop and Shop, we all know what PT Barnum said.

                                          1. re: dolores

                                            great post as always.

                                            give me a no-frills grocery store that is clean with good produce in the winter months(I hit farmers markets and farmstands in the summer, a good deli section, & the other basics at a fair price and I am happy( I dont need fish, or meat from a supermarket, thats what the local no-frills meat market, and the realtively local fishmonger is for).

                                            People can keep their "gourmet" stores with their prepared foods, frozen fish, average meat, coffee kiosks, etc. Not my style.

                                        2. i love hearing led zeppelin and talking heads as the music! apparently, this is reaching the large chains' demographic target around here in nova. i think i've also heard alice cooper, donovan, heart, abba (natch!)......

                                          it always cracks me up --- and makes me thankful it is not muzak.

                                          tj's IS like a singles bar and/or track meet. narrow aisles don't help.

                                          cleanliness is an absolute must.

                                          and i've opened a bottled water and drunk it in the store, and then put the empty bottle on the checkout to pay for it. never a cross look --- usually a smile from the checker.

                                          and i appreciate friendly, helpful checkout people. i wouldn't mock them.....

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            The local Asian/Mexican market (San Pablo Supermarket) subscribes to some web music feed that changes genre about every 15 minutes. YOu never know what exactly you are going to hear, could be Asian pop, rai, reggae, bagpipes, whatever. Worth going to the store for that alone.

                                            As to the rest, cleanliness and organization rank supreme with me. It does me no good to shop at the best stocked store on the planet if you can't find anything.

                                            A note to Berkeley Bowl, I might actually shop there more if two people carrying hand baskets could pass each other in an aisle.

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              I've read about a particular Safeway in San Francisco that has been given the unofficial nickname of "Dateway" because of the unusually large number of singles that shop there.

                                              1. re: Vexorg

                                                when i was at school in georgetown, washington, dc, the safeway on upper wisconsin ave. was the "social safeway" where you could go and mingle with the international diplomatic set and pretty people! maybe pick up a date!

                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                  Alkapal, I probably was a few years ahead of you @ Georgetown, but I, too, remember the "Social Safeway" .... they even had "singles specials" on Wednesday nights.

                                                  1. re: Cheflambo

                                                    and jfood ahead of both of you as a hoya. that safeway has been a scene for a loooong time. but booey's and the tombs were waaay better to meet people.

                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      jfood, our backgrounds are WAY too common. My family lived in New Canaan in the 70s while I was in college in DC. In fact, I will be in NC next month for a class reunion.

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        lol, how many safeways have a yelp page???? http://www.yelp.com/biz/safeway-food-...

                                                        oh, jfood, one of my four g.u. housemates was friends with the tombs' owner's son, AND she worked there. (two others worked at chadwick's, and a third at the third edition!) we lived a block away from the tombs, and they would always do the after hours partying at our place. query: how many "supremes" songs can a human being stand at 3 am? ;-D

                                                        booeys has expanded by the way in several locations: http://www.booeymonger.com/locations....
                                                        of course, none could match the laid back ambience of the original.

                                                      2. re: Cheflambo

                                                        Possibly even a few more years earlier, was that the "International Safeway" with the real exotic food isles?

                                                        1. re: shallots

                                                          i was talking early '80s for the social safeway. i think jfood goes back a wee bit earlier....

                                                          i don't recall any specific exotic food aisles, though.

                                                2. At a local Pavilions (Vons) market here in Brentwood (suburb of Los Angeles), I recently heard a store manager (standing in the produce section, a good 30 feet from the cashier she was cajoling) ask said cashier "how her numbers were", in reference to the store's charity/donation drive-of-the-week (fight prostate cancer, hungry kids, etc; the cashier is supposed to ask each patron if they'd like to donate a buck or two to charity, as they pay their grocery bill). The cashier, also obviously 30+ feet away from the manager, listlessly shouted back a response in the negative. Then the manager proceeded to chide the cashier by yelling back that if she (the cashier) wanted any more gift cards (for high numbers on the donations), she'd better pick up the pace... Now, firstly, why should the manager publically humiliate the cashier; and secondly, what ever possessed the manager into believing that we the patrons wanted to hear the sorry state of affairs, wherein the mechanism of gift cards for 'high numbers' was touted so casually (in an admittedly fairly empty store that particular day)? It left an incredibly bad taste in my mouth,as regards the psychological 'ambiance' of that store. Funny, I still donated on that day. But I felt bad, not for the quid-pro-quo between the store and its employees; I felt bad that the store's management thought so little of my comfort zone while patroning their store. I didn't feeled cajoled into a donation, but felt insignificant in the way that one's pet dog or cat must feel when its owner eventually crosses a 'threshold' of unconcern and no longer closes the bathroom door, obliging the hapless doggie or kitty to watch the owner do their 'business'. The pet owner, I guess, assumes their pet couldn't care less about witnessing human excretions/ablutions (pets probably don't care, I suppose). But at the grocery store, I felt the manager didn't really care if I witnessed their 'business' either. Same at the bank I frequent. When a new teller begins to process my withdrawl, she'll mysteriously ask her neighboring teller if she can "KTM". The nearby teller inevitably looks up from what they're doing, stares at me and sizes me up, then dryly says "yes". It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that "KTM" is the bank's code for "known to me", as in, "yup, that customer is 'known to me', so go ahead and give him his own money"... I suppose folks in customer service, be it a grocery store or a bank, eventually have to slightly tune out the sense of human delicacy in we their customers, if they are to remain sane from the day-in/day-out drudgery of watching patrons cravenly grasp for foodstuffs, money, etc. But, ya know, the ambiance does suffer and the soul dims ever so slightly for just a moment...

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: silence9

                                                    "The pet owner, I guess, assumes their pet couldn't care less about witnessing human excretions/ablutions (pets probably don't care, I suppose). "
                                                    I could care less about reading this analogy. My dog cares even less.
                                                    Do you write pot boilers?
                                                    Otherwise, I cravenly agree with you as my soul perks back up.

                                                  2. I have one particular store that I do most of my grocery shopping at (a QFC, which is a locally-based chain that falls somewhere under the Kroger umbrella,) and it tends to be a bit more upscale than the Safeways, Albertsons or Fred Meyers (another Kroger-owned store) ariound here, but less so than Whole Paycheck or some of the more high-end locally based places.

                                                    I could probably spend a little less overall by grocery shopping at Fred Meyer, but I stick to the QFC mainly because the ambiance is nicer, and the QFC is also only half a mile from my house and doesn't require wading through traffic to get there. On the plus side for Fred Meyer, they also have a full line of non-food merchandise (I'll often buy new release video games from their electronics department, which is a lot less hassle than having to deal with LameStop,) so I'll make the trip over if they have something I need for the house on sale, and might pick up some groceries while I'm at it. On the other hand, the merchandise in the meat department doesn't seem to be quite as good as QFC's selection, but they do have a better bakery department, and a better selection of produce.

                                                    I don't know exactly how things are run at Kroger, but it seems to me that the various divisions do seem to have a fair bit of autonomy as to how they operate, which means that there is a surprising amount of difference between the two.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Vexorg

                                                      >>I don't know exactly how things are run at Kroger, but it seems to me that the various divisions do seem to have a fair bit of autonomy as to how they operate, which means that there is a surprising amount of difference between the two.<<

                                                      Or maybe Krogers is smarter than their competitors and knows when they have a good thing (like Fred Meyer's). All you have to do is to see how Safeway has lost at least 15% market share in Chicago by all the "great changes" they made to the Dominick's Finest Foods division.

                                                      It is foolish to think that what works well in Cincinnati (Kroger's) will be warmly embraced in the Pacific Northwest.

                                                      A few years ago, my wife was doing some marketing research in the Cleveland area as to shopper's behaviors and preferences. One particular store was constantly being mentioned as dirty, disorganized, and hard to shop. However, when the same people were asked how often they shopped there, they said "two to three times a week". Obviously, they liked the value and selection offered by the retailer more than the ambiance of the store. Now if the value proposition goes away, that retailer is doomed.

                                                    2. When the local A&P opened a few years ago Whole Foods and Shop Rite hadn't arrived yet. A&P was the "go to" grocery stop for the surrounding, not just immediate community. Then WF & Shop Rite opened with bigger, "better"...more, more, more to offer....so A&P decided to close doors open a Starbucks-like bistro and remodel the entire store. My first visit was a bit overwhelming. They installed a gas fireplace in the side entrance right beside the cafe. The "food mall" was now a 2 hour minimum shop. Shelves of tomato sauce lined up like upscale handbags, eggs for 6.00...a bakery so overdone...speciality freezers and the checkout line squeezed into such a small space that the carts back into the food aisles.

                                                      I left there not at all impressed by the millions spent to keep up with the jones. As for the gas fireplace...it appears the employees have a new coffee break space.

                                                      1. They recently renovated the Shoprite by me. Put in hardwood floors in the produce section. Pimped out the Olive and Salad Bars. Loves it. Then they rearranged the entire layout of the store. P.I.T.A for about a month while I figured it out. I found out this about myself: I am a sucker for "ambiance", but as a creature of habit, I'd much rather know exactly where everything is so I can just Power Shop my way throught the place and get on to more important things, like dinner.

                                                        1. For years most Chicagoans were used to the utilitarian supermarkets Jewel and Domnick's. They were standard fare: fluorescent lights above racks standing five feet skyward with everything a meat and potatoes Midwesterner could want. On Sundays grandmotherly types would stand at hot plates and plastic tables to give out tastes of ravioli or polish sausage as shoppers strolled down the sheet-tiled aisles to pick up sliced Kraft and family packs of beef. Then the Minnesota chain Byerly's came to the northern suburbs and redefined what an experience groceries could be. Carpeted floors, chandeliers, classical music, aproned matrons behind counters giving out samples and everything spotlessly clean. It was like the spa of supermarkets. And it closed within a year.

                                                          So long as the store is clean, reasonably stocked and competetively priced, it doesn't matter how pretty the floors are or if they play the sound of silence or Prelude on the Afternoon of a Faun.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: JungMann

                                                            lunds/byerly's is still going strong up here as well as its competitor, kowalskis. the co-ops here are also extremely strong compared to the rest of the country--frankly, they generally blow WFM out of the water. the local "utilitarian" supermarkets cub and rainbow have prettified themselves in response to the high end grocers. i don't know what it is about folks around here, but they seem to have a marked preference for, and have grown accustomed to, "spa supermarkets" as you say (i like the phrase btw). the customer service is great, for one thing.

                                                            1. re: JungMann

                                                              But did you ever patronize Sunset Foods in Northbrook and Highland Park? There may be more now, I'm not sure. However, Sunset was a family owned place back in the day, and catered, okay, more than catered, to the customer, young and old. Unload your own cart on the belt? No way. Someone will do that for you. Take your packages to the car? Unheard of, and tips were forbidden.

                                                              When I was 18 my then boyfriend and I, (he didn't know Sunset, but did know Happy Foods in Skokie) went in there for something. He was more than shocked when we were given a shopping cart and treated like we weren't the adolescents we were, although I must say we were quite well behaved. He still talks about that place (yes, we're still friends.) 30 years later I went back to that same store and what do you know, the same manager was there. He didn't recognize me, but I sure remembered him.

                                                              1. re: marcia

                                                                I'd never even heard of Sunset Foods. Northbrook is a little too far (although we did make the trip to Highland Park for Byerly's). But in the end, Sunset might offer a luxurious shopping experience, but where do you do most of your shopping?

                                                                1. re: JungMann

                                                                  I haven't lived in Northbrook since I left for college. When I still lived in Evanston I shopped mostly at Jewel or Dominicks, like most everybody else does.

                                                            2. Speaking of grocery store ambiance, I have done a couple of blog posts on the subject that may be of interest to some people here. Last week, the old Marina style Safeway store in downtown Bellevue (WA) closed after more than 45 years in business, and in its place Safeway's new flagship store for the Pacific Northwest opened a block away. Before the old store closed down I took some pictures (and found some info from back when it opened in the newspaper archives), and I also went through and took a bunch of photos of the new store.

                                                              The old store: http://thesledgehammer.wordpress.com/...

                                                              The new store: http://thesledgehammer.wordpress.com/...

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: Vexorg

                                                                wow, your new store is really nice. a roasted nut bar? wood-fired hearth? gelato? flat screen tv? dang!

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  those 3 things caught my eye too-- really nice! otherwise the warehouse ambiance looked more like a rainbow or a cub to me, esp the checkout area w/balloons--cheese selections & preserves selection very poor, organic produce unattractively displayed etc. seems like the store is trying to be all things to all people, offering tons of processed/frozen foods & diapers across the same aisle as the eggs(!), as well as upscale details like the nut bar, gelato and wood-fire oven pizza. how does safeway rate on the scale of grocery stores in the area: average, below average, or upscale? of course i'm jealous about being able to pick up wine/beer in the grocery store. . .

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    Throughout most of the Seattle area, I'd say that Safeway is considered pretty middle-of-the-road as far as grocery stores go, but over here on the Eastside where I live, the competition tends to run more upscale, so that might skew perceptions some. There are also a number of smaller and somewhat outdated Safeways in the area that might be considered more toward the lower end of the scale.

                                                                    As far as the spectrum of grocery stores in the area go, at the lower end of the scale are places like Wal-Mart (although there are few of these in the Seattle metro area) and Albertsons (which has closed a number of stores in the area in recent years.) Fred Meyer (which is a Kroger owned combo grocery/discount store,) Haggen/Top Foods and Safeway take up the middle ground. A step above those you have QFC (another Kroger brand, which is where I do much of my grocery shopping) and some of the more upscale local brands. At the high end you've got Whole Foods and some other high-end local places, although only WF really has a presence on the Eastside currently. Somewhere in the middle of that, you've also got a significant number of Costco stores (they have their corporate headquarters in the area) and a few Sams Clubs as well.

                                                                    The Safeway store I profiled is is the middle of a rather upscale downtown, where the primary competition for grocery shopping consists of a couple of QFC stores and a Whole Foods, and I'm pretty sure a 45 year old store just wasn't going to be able to keep up. In many ways, this store is directly taking on Whole Foods with a number of the high-end features, although in the end, it's pretty clear that it's still a Safeway when it all boils down.

                                                                2. re: Vexorg

                                                                  do you guys have Haggen's in Bellevue? I visit the MV/Bellingham area every couple of years and love, love, love a trip or two through the Haggen's. I even signed up for a courtesy card!

                                                                  1. re: coney with everything

                                                                    Yes, there's a Top Foods (basically a Haggen store with a different name) over at Crossroads in Bellevue, and in a number of other locations throughout the area. Apparently they also own the last remaining Larry's Market in Redmond now, but have elected to keep that name on the store for the time being.

                                                                3. Ambiance is a big deal for me! I refuse to go to Cub during peak hours, it drives me insane. And I will only go to Cub for things like cat food or toilet paper, everything else I'll go to Kowalski's. It's quiet, organized, the employees are helpful, they have a Starbucks, everything is really fresh.... I am definitely on a budget but the couple extra cents I'm paying to not shop angry is totally worth it!

                                                                  1. My brother lives near Grand Rapids MI. right by his house there is a Spartan store Forest Hills Foods. Wish the krogers near my house would pull a book out of the page of this place. Kroger/walmart/A&P type prices, Meat and Produce like a WholeFoods, Pantry Items like TJ's, and a solid Deli. Staff that actually knows what they stock in the store, and have a clue about what ingredients, spices, and foods are for. All this a bag boys that (hold your hat...) take the grocery's out to the car, load into trunk, and refuse tips.

                                                                    Weird to say, but I like to visit him and go shopping at his neighborhood grocer.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: workinglunches2

                                                                      Workinglunches2, do you ever shop at Holiday Market in RO? It's also a Spartan store, with all of the above attributes you mention including knowledgeable and helpful staff. Plus the owner is very generous in his support of the community. They just remodeled and expanded.

                                                                    2. With vivid clarity I recall the first time I tiptoed into the brand spankin' new Wegman's that had just opened up near my house. It was tragically gorgeous. Food porn all around me. I was so lulled into submission I didn't blink at the bill which was HUGE. Flash forward 10 years and pretty wrappers aren't all I need. (They are nice, but...)
                                                                      If it's CLEAN, convenient and well stocked with the things we like, I'm there.
                                                                      It's fun to people watch at some places but often I don't have the time.
                                                                      I miss Trader Joe's, Wegman's Stop-n-Shop, etc from NJ.
                                                                      This AM in SuperWalmart (believe me, I didn't want to go but my little farmer mkt doesn't have cilantro and I need it) it was jam-packed and people had their carts FILLED to the top. They obviously care little for ambiance....

                                                                      1. Ambiance? I'd kill for a supermarket that didn't sell rotting garlic and thinks Rice A Roni is the only option to Minute Rice. I also wish I had a supermarket where the cashiers spent less time discussing " that hot guy crossing the street" and kept their mind on their work.

                                                                        I never thought I'd miss my old neighborhood's Key Food,which many on the outerboroughs board complain about. At least they had a variety.

                                                                        1. I usually go to Kroger or Publix for most of my shopping and there are differences between the two. I actually complained a couple of times to the corporate office of Kroger about our local store. While "boycotting" Kroger I had to go to 3 stores to do my normal shopping. Anyway, something that my Kroger has in the produce department is a sound effect of thunder. They have it turned up so loud! I am usually laughing all the way through the produce section. Then, last weekend, I was shopping in the produce section of our newish Publix and there it was...the thunder sound effect. Turned up equally loud!

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Boudleaux

                                                                            The Safeway stores around here all have the same thing in the produce department. It's supposed to be a warning sound indicating that the sprayers are about to be activated, and although it is admittedly a bit corny, at least people can figure out what it's supposed to mean. At one of the other stores I shop at frequently, they use a doorbell chime instead, and I suspect that someone who isn't familiar with the store wouldn't have any idea what that's supposed to mean, and as a result could get themselves sprayed.

                                                                            1. re: Vexorg

                                                                              Interesting. I didn't even think about that. How stupid am I? :) I'm not sure that my Kroger is doing that though. Either that or they are spraying the produce all of the time. Huge thunderstorm in the produce department! That makes sense though. I am sure Publix is using it more effectively. Thanks for the information.

                                                                              1. re: Boudleaux

                                                                                This is done with an automated system, and it is set up to spray the refrigerated produce bins on a timed interval (I believe it's 5 minutes, but I never stick around the produce aisle long enough to know for sure.) I suspect the sound effects are probably built into the system by the manufacturer.