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Oct 1, 2008 09:35 AM

Market Basket heebie-jeebies

Billerica has 3 supermarkets and they are all MB. One of them is in my food shopping rotation. I shop primarily for lunch meat and veggies, some fruits. The veggies/fruits are hit-and-miss but when they're good, the prices are unbeatable. The day-old baked goods have some great deals. It's very convenient. However, the post about the MB seafood prices and freshness prompted me to write this post.

The MB nearest me is scruffy, down-at-the-heels dirty with staff that look beaten down and broken by sad life stories. Brown broccoli, bok coy with the leafy greens cut off, mottled squash, mushy cukes . . . not uncommon. Strips of plastic wrap in the lunch meats on occasion. Meat dept personnel that wheel those shelves/carts around liket they're hoping to hit someone. When I ask the staff where something is, I get a lank wave of the arm with a vague answer of "over there".

I would no sooner buy seafood here than take it out of a dumpster. Am I in a MB twilight zone? Are there cleaner, fresher, peppier-staffed MBs out there?

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  1. i stopped buy shellfish at MB when the practice of keeping the tags on hand went south.
    i have 3 in my area and the Sketchiest one has the best produce. the others are fine for most things.
    i don't usually buy meat there as i have a couple of full service butchers close by.

    1. The one in Somerville is hopping! Have never seen anything other than top-notch veggies and fruits. The staff is mostly kids from the neighborhood and they're generally great. It's a really lively place, always packed with shoppers, so probably lots of product turn-over that helps in the areas you mentioned.

      30 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Second our Somerville MB -- any time I've asked one of the guys to help me, they are cheerful and happy to help. I buy my fish elsewhere but that's not because I'm worried about MB's quality, I just like going to the fishmongers on Cambridge Street.

        I'm most impressed with the quality of the produce and the fine butchering. I love my MB, sorry your mileage varies.

        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          I lhave to defend the Somerville MB too! I was just there on Sunday and when they had no ground pork out, the meat guy offered to take some in back and grind it for me. The workers often smile at me or ask if I need anything in the produce area. They don't all understand some of the things I'm looking for, but they always try. I never get the people in our area who shop at Shaw's in Porter Square. I think it's an attitude thing: I'm a white 30-something professional, I should get off the T and grab something in a package from Shaw's prepared food section. I mean, _I'm_ a white 30-something professional and I relish the conversation in broken English I had with someone in the checkout line about the Goya brand frozen 5 lb bag of sardines she had which were also labeled "mackeral." People denigrate the place and go "eew, I'd never shop there." But let me tell you, when every cart coming out of the store is full to the brim with kale, batatas, and peppers the produce stays a lot fresher than at Shaw's where people leave with one banana and a yogurt. Sorry-- I got a little fired up there.

          1. re: Parsnipity


            As a Haitian friend once told me when I first started shopping there ... "all god's children shop at market basket."

            For a real trip -- go on new years's eve. you will see carts overflowing with all the necessary provisions and a lot of jolly neighbors to talk with while waiting online.

            1. re: yumyum

              That's a great quote!
              The corollary is all Nietzsche's children shop at the Porter Square Shaw's. :-b

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                Hah...I will only be caught at Porter Square Shaws when I need to pick up something after midnight that only a 24-hr supermarket will have. Agree that it's otherwise useless.

                I don't live near that Somerville M.B. and haven't been there in years.

                1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                  what's wrong the porter square shaws? their produce seems fine, they have iggy's bread, our favorite brand of yogurt, they're clean, the people are friendly, prices are more or less on par with expectations, etc.? we just moved to the area and have found it to be a VAST improvement over the markets in jp where we lived previously, which had terrible selection/brown produce, extremely surly/uninterested teenage staff, mice running around and general decrepitude/dirtiness.

                  is the objection to a perception regarding the clientele, or something specific about the store?

                  1. re: autopi

                    The PS Shaw's is one of the favorite butts of local gallows humor. The way the management (used to?) guarantee long lines at the check was the stuff of Cambridge legend (in a bad way). And then that parking lot....

                    1. re: Karl S

                      I think it's the parking lot that is the 8th level of hell, not the market itself. Although, back in the day the market was much worse.

                    2. re: autopi

                      Based on my informal research, Porter Square Shaw's overprices nearly everything compared to competitors. A startling example - Newman's Own Lemonade/Limeade, etc. - Typically is $2.50 a carton at Shaw's - MB carries it for sometimes as low as $1.50 a carton. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The produce is usually not as good as MB's and much more expense (not to even mention comparison with Russo's).

                      Bottom line - they have a captive market as it's the only major supermarket on the Red Line north of the Charles. The prices reflect what the market can bear.

                      I have no problem with the folks who work there.

                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                        fair enough about the parking lot--we usually walk or bike, so i don't really notice most times. (and now that i think about it, the brookline trader joe's is far, far worse in that respect--yikes!)

                        i haven't yet been to the market basket, though the discussion here makes me think we should give it a shot. as you say, there's a premium i'm willing to pay for not having to spend extra time to get staples, though i haven't noticed it in particular at the porter square shaws vs. other area markets.

                        unless it's really a lot, the difference it would make in cost per month (vs. e.g. driving to russo's) would likely be negligible at best. but i don't have a lot of experience with cambridgeville grocery stores, so there you go.

                        i kind of imagine most grocery stores have a "captive market" not so much in what subway line they are on, but the immediate neighborhood (how long it takes to walk to that market vs. the next one over). this captive market happens to be a relatively affluent one.

                        1. re: autopi

                          The Somerville Market Basket parking lot is certainly pretty painful too and believe it or not Star used to be worse (they used to load groceries in the lot). Lines are a lot faster at MB, including for express/self-check out. For quick in and out, the Beacon Shaw's is a good bet for staples.

                          1. re: itaunas

                            The Beacon St. Shaw's is a ghost town! It's so weird. It's half a mile from the Porter Sq. shop and the Market Basket and I don't get how they stay in business.

                            1. re: dulce de leche

                              I go there for big shoppings of basic items (think brown sugar and paper towels), but in many years of shopping there, I have never, ever had to wait in line, a big plus, and I know right where to find what I am looking for without having to walk past ten aisles of stuff that doesn't even belong in a grocery store. And besides, it's so pleasantly close to Petsi's......

                          2. re: autopi

                            RE: Russo's - In terms of pure dollars to dollars cost, you are probably right that there is not a huge difference in price.

                            But I personally put a very high premium on the quality / price ratio -and the quality of the chow at Russo's is far and away superior to Shaw's so that even if the price is a wash, the quality difference makes it worth it to me to shop there.

                            As far as just dollars, it feels like Shaw's price-gouges because their population (of walkers) is literally more captive on the whole. Sure a few pennies here or there, no big difference. But that kind of thing just irks me as a consumer.

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              bob, you're absolutely right about the unbelievable produce at russo's. i meant--i see that this was unreasonable--to convey by "staples" things like packaged goods, king arthur flour, milk, cat litter, that sort of thing. not produce or meat, which i also go out of my way for.

                              i'd drive to russo's too, except our CSA and community garden plot are still going strong, plus i'm deterred by reports of peak time crowds & madness, which tends to make me daft.

                              one more off-topic question to those who find the prices at the porter shaws high: is this true of all shaws, or just this one?

                            2. re: autopi

                              In my experience, MB is roughly 20-30% cheaper than the Porter Square Shaw's. It's very rare to find something at MB that is not cheaper than Shaw's. MB's normal prices are in line with Shaw's sale prices.

                              If you're currently spending $60 a week for groceries at Shaw's, you'd save $50-70 a month by shopping at MB.

                              1. re: afty698

                                Exactly why I put up with the parking lot and craziness at MB -- it really is cheaper in the end for stuff you use every day.

                                I still shop at TJs, Wholefoods, Shaws and various butchers, fishmongers and cheese shops too. But staples all come from Market Basket.

                          3. re: autopi

                            My experience at Porter square shaws has been different from yours, autopi.

                            They don't have my particular favorite brand of yogurt, but Stonyfield at a dollar a holler. I like Stonyfield, but that's too high of a price.

                            The produce is not to my satisfaction. Once in a while some okay stuff but in general...low quality, picked through and/ or spoiled. At least during the
                            odd hours of the morning that I shop there.

                            Deli counter closed overnight, and pre-packaged deli meats and cheeses are more expensive than that at Whole Foods

                            No problem with the staff.

                            1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                              duly noted; i'm not trying to defend the shaw's. i'm just curious what the complaint is, and it sounds like it's (a) prices, and (b) complaints re: produce.

                              as to (a) i don't actually shop there that much, so i don't have a lot of data myself on prices etc.. prices for the non-produce things we get there seem about par for the course, with the probable exception of market basket--though then you apparently have to put up with the psychological trauma of the maddening crowds. but i defer to those who have more experience.

                              as to (b) i will say the dozen or so times i've been, the produce has *looked* just fine, and much better than the harvest coop and stop & shop in JP we were used to before. but i didn't look very closely, since i stopped buying produce months ago, once our csa got going.

                              1. re: autopi

                                now that this post has bubbled back up to the surface, let me report that i now agree that prices are a bit higher at the porter square shaws. not tremendously so, but 10-20% or so sounds like it's in the ballpark.

                                the produce is definitely Not Great. but for those of you who think it is the worst thing ever, i invite you to spend a few years shopping at the stop & shop, hilo and harvest coop in jp. you might come to appreciate the porter square shaws' cleanliness, selection and yes, even produce after that.

                                1. re: autopi

                                  Well, I'm dating myself, but the very worst market I've ever seen, and I didn't have a car so it was my only option, was Purity Supreme in Central Square, Cambridge. I HATED that store. Then the harvest coop opened up, which at least gave me some choice. Does anyone remember Purity?

                            2. re: autopi

                              (1) The prices are totally out of line. Shaw's will ask $4.99/lb for red peppers, while MB is asking $1.39/lb. Ditto $1.49/apples, while MB is $.79. No reason in the world except that Mr. Shaw's likes being rich. (2) The lack of stockers, and the lack of knowledge if you do find one. Good luck if you need something that's not on the shelf. You'll starve to death before you'll find a stocker or the stocker can find the item. At MB, they're cheerful and they know where everything is! If they need to get it from the back, they'll do it fast! And cheerfully. (3) Shaw's uses loss leaders to get you into the store, but they only stock 10 of that item so there you are, stuck. Yes, you can leave, but then it's a big waste of time and you have to plan a new menu, etc. I once freaked out at the manager because they had a loss leader on Brie, and guess what -- it was sold out by the time I got there! I was really mad, because it was about the tenth time that had happened. I got the manager and scolded him about loss leaders and abusing their customer base, and he got the cheese manager, and I got a giant wheel of Brie out of it. Really made me mad! It's only once that MB hasn't had what I wanted, which was canned pumpkin at T-giving. Very rare that they run out! Otherwise, it's there, on the shelf, stocked by cheery stockers. (4) Summer fruit at Shaw's is almost inevitable underripe, so it goes directly to rotten. I can't tell you how many canteloupes turned into mush in my kitchen. Ditto peaches. I finally started returning them, but what a pain in the butt! I wanted good fruit, not my money back or more bad fruit.
                              Plus the Shaw's clientele tend to be smug. But the ones who actually should be smug, but are too polite, are the MB shoppers who are getting much better/fresher food for a much lower price!
                              Okay, that's my rant. Thanks for letting me get it out, and happy new year to all you 'Hounds!

                      2. re: Parsnipity

                        No defense required. I wish I had a store like that near me.

                        1. re: three of us

                          I agree with all the above pro-Somerville posters - I find everything fresh excluding seafood. I have had a couple of bad fish experiences there so I do not buy seafood, except for the cheap lobsters which are generally shedders, but still a good deal and seem to be lively. Last Saturday I bought 6 chickens for $30.

                        2. re: Parsnipity

                          Yeah! What she says! I love our Somerville MB, as long as I don't try to shop at 6:00 on Friday. I go at 8:00 am on a Tuesday.

                          1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                            I like to go after 8 (usually about 8:30) on most evenings - it empties out nicely as closing time approaches.

                            1. re: annejudge

                              This reminded me of an evening when I went grocery shopping on a random Thursday at about 9pm, and remarked to the cashier how happy I was to have found a time when the store settles down and is nice and quiet. She deadpanned, "Well, most people are busy on Valentine's Day." Ouch.

                              1. re: Cachetes

                                Somerville MB was deserted* during a recent Pats playoff game.

                                * comparatively

                          2. re: Bob Dobalina

                            One more pro-Somerville MB story. This week I was doing my grocery shopping, and I was trying to find Wing It Buffalo wing sauce. I asked a guy who was stocking the shelves in the hot sauce area, and he said he didn't think they carried it. I went on my way.

                            I found my wing sauce in the next aisle with the foreign foods (no idea why). Continued shopping and 20 minutes later ended up back in the hot sauce area, looking for something else. The same guy noticed me and asked if I had found my wing sauce.

                            I was just really impressed that the guy remembered that I had asked about the wing sauce and seemed to actually care whether I found it.

                          3. The Tewksbury (On rte 38 near 495) location is the cleanest I have seen in the area. The fish there is hit or miss. You really have to get the stuff that looks and smells the freshest. Can't beat them for Lobsters though.

                            1. The fish in the Danvers market looks spectacular. I would only buy fish from a specific place but went in for other things and remarked to the fish monger how great the fish looked. He said they move more fish than any other MB?! I have bought fish occasionally from the Reading MB because they do a very high volume and it has always been good, steamers over the summer were EXCELLENT.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: 4chowpups

                                We've been augmenting our trips to Tendercrop and Conners farms with weekly trips to the Reading MB and everything so far has been really cannot beat their prices for all the necesary non-produce grocery items. The staff in the aisles are very helpful and we are very satisfied with the over-all appearance of the store.
                                Plus, the in house specials for fish have been excellent. We've been buying their wild caught fish and have been pleased with everything....

                                1. re: 4chowpups

                                  My dad was a lobsterman for 50 years and he knew his fish. He swore by the seafood at the Danvers Market Basket, even when he was selling lobsters to other area markets. The Middleton and Rowley stores are clean and well staffed too, but I haven't bought seafood there.

                                2. Funny you should mention it. We were at Sichuan Gourmet last Sat and decided to do grocery shopping while in the area. There are 3 all on rt3a as you mention. One was right next to S.G. one was south towards burlington and one was north.. We opted to go to the southern most one, (left out of the S.G. parking lot).. Seemed ok to us.. The northern most one (right out of the S.G. parking lot) looked ancient from the outside. We thought the one right next to S.G. looked like an older market from the outside too which is why we drove to see what the other one was like.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: hargau

                                    Actually, the one next to SG is the newest - because the one that was there burned and was rebuilt (maybe a decade ago? Time flies so it's a guess). But that mall is a chronic problem. The interior stores don't last - I live in town and haven't been inside in this century. For whatever reason, that MB is never busy. A good thing if there's a sale on something non-perishable and the other MBs have run out. I shop there on occasion - the Wilmington and Tewksbury MBs are closer to my side of Billerica - but am not surprised if some of the "fresh" stuff isn't up to snuff. Three of us, to which one were you referring?

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      Treble Cove Plaza. A rIght out of Sichaun Gourmet and keep going towards Chelmsford.

                                      1. re: three of us

                                        That one looked really old from the outside. Im not suprised. The older MB seem ghetto