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Somerville Market Basket funny

This is a funny article about the experience of shopping at the Somerville Market Basket.


"We all walk around, eyes half-glazed, like we are solving mildly difficult math problems written on chalkboards 50 yards in front of us."

Oh yes. Yes we do.

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  1. Written by a friend of mine's son - no truer words spoken - shopping at ANY MB is a near-nightmare no matter the day or the time . . .

    7 Replies
    1. re: phonelady

      Not true. The Burlington one or the Danvers one are both not that bad. Heaven forbid you make it at 2:00 on a weekday...

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Another day to most definitely avoid is the first of month - soc. sec. check day :-)

      2. re: phonelady

        I like to think of the Somerville MB as an obstacle course or some other competitive activity :-)

        Although I find the Chelsea location almost relaxing because it's so spacious. Even on a Saturday.

        1. re: STL BOS

          Yah, the bigger ones are just NOT nuts. The Danvers one is basically just a HUGE, nice, inexpensive supermarket.

          1. re: STL BOS

            Not at all! If you go at 8:30 any weekday morning, you'll be in and out in no time. Plus the staff know where everything can be found if you can't find it yourself.

          2. re: phonelady

            The Reading location is a delight, especially before the seniors get there at mid-morning.

            1. re: phonelady

              Please tell your friend to tell her son he really made my day - and thanks, yumyum, for posting the link. I needed a good laugh!

              Other MB's aren't that bad during the week, early in the morning. I've only been to the Somerville one time (one, unforgettable time), and although I now live pretty close, I've been avoiding it for this reason.

              1. re: Aromatherapy

                On a my recent visit to Boston while I did most of my shopping in Chelsea and at smaller markets, I did ensure to make at least one visit to the Somerville MB for old times sake. Aside from the parking issue at certain hours, I find that I can shop faster at the Somerville store than any of the others including the new stores, but the extended Somerville Ave construction was enough to tip me towards Chelsea which I already frequented for goods that Somerville doesn't stock.

                chowhound poster djd has mentioned the Somerville MB and culture in humorous style in several boston.com articles about markets, including this one (you have to love any article which uses mangos and greek yougurt for price comparison :-):


                1. re: itaunas

                  please tell, what does Chelsea MB stock that Somerville doesn't? I might have to take the T to Chelsea.

                  1. re: Madrid

                    My ideal shopping trip would be in Somerville (mostly): MB, the Union Sq farmers market, Winter Hill Bakery, Courthouse Seafood, Capone's and Amigo's market but that would require multiple stops. That used to be a regular Saturday loop for me, with less regular stops at Reliable, Jerry's, and La Internacional. Now I would usually include Seabra. This definately cannot be beaten, although if I go early enough Saturdays a trip to Chelsea can include a visit to Arthur's.

                    When Chelsea MB was smaller it was a bit more ethnic, particularly Italian and Latino (carrying some smaller brands of cheeses), unfortunately when it grew some of those things have been pushed out in favor of larger displays and lots of shelf space for name brand products. But Chelsea still has some advantages and some new things like the Columbus Salame are a big win.

                    They have a larger and much better seafood section where you can get locally caught cod (and some specialties), usually fairly fresh sea scallops (often from gloucester), not local but reasonable products like mexican bay scallops and shrimp. Maine shrimp are more regularly available in season (heads lopped off) and put on sale. They also offer head-on shrimp. Frozen things like octopus have a couple of options vs usually a single in Somerville. I really only buy a limited subset of seafood from MB, but Chelsea is a lot better for those items.

                    They are a bit better on Italian products (Somerville is a bit better on Portuguese, although they reduced shelf space for that to accomodate more Brazilian). They carry Maria's fresh pasta. A huge draw is Columbus Salame Co products in the deli case (mostly their mid-line products), plus a better quality domestic proscuitto and some imported (they tried speck for a while but no longer carry it).

                    Produce its easier to find hungarian cheese peppers in season, italian frying peppers, some oriental greens (its a bit of an odd selection still but better than Somerville). They carry green coconuts (in Somerville you can get these at La Sultana) and more regularly stock local Brazilian produce in the fall (such as maxixe, jilo which Somerville carries but its often not as nice). They also carry central american squashes, which I love because they stand up to stewing (you can get these sometimes at the Union Sq farmer's market).

                    The bakery is better and there is a nice selection of Salvadoran baked goods. One thing they carried in the old Chelsea MB was par-baked Cuban bread and they brought it back when they reopened but it seems to come and go (the Columbus porchetta is probably as good as you can get as far as deli counter sliced pork even though its not exactly right for a cuban).

                    They carry much more offal (including the widest selection of lamb offal I have seen around Easter), but Somerville's meat prices can actually be better and it has nice loin cuts for beef.

                    They do carry more Mexican cheeses than Somerville (where you can buy Salvadoran equivalents and which now carries Oxacan cheese), but unfortunately now these are exclusively larger brands like La Fe, Tropical, and Goya (with produce prices creeping up and giving away the advantage of the smaller brands, I agree with Karl S that Price Rite is more cost effective definitely for common "latino" food shopping). Few more options for crema, but best are Salvadoran which you can get in Somerville. They can be a bit hard to find but there is some decent columbian chorizo. They used to carry piloncillo (sp?) but I haven't seen it in a while but its not something I would commonly get.

                    If you are taking the T keep in mind its about 10 minutes from the commuter rail and likewise a hike from Broadway (Haymarket buses). I think its the 112 which is a bit circuitous from Wellington and also has Blue line connections which goes nearby.

                    Winter Hill Bakery
                    318 Broadway, Somerville, MA

                    1. re: itaunas

                      thank you. I really appreciate this thorough reply, and I know others will as well.

                    2. re: Madrid

                      In addition to the lovely post from itaunas, I wanted to point out that this store has a significantly nicer selection of asian products than Somerville. Big bottles of squid fish sauce, an assortment of decent noodles, etc. The asian section is kinda divided into the slightly more comprehensive one (at the base of the middle goya aisle) and then a more standard americanized one in the middle of the pasta aisle.

                      In general it's a more spacious store. Produce is massive. Meat is massive. Bakery/prepared is massive. Get the pattern? The seafood counter is nice, but know that I've seen the frozen shrimp (from the frozen section) poured into the 'previously frozen' shrimp area in the counter. They do have occasional other types in season.

                2. What a fun read!

                  Love how it comes full circle at the end. And how he describes his haven alongside produce: "...a low-traffic oasis ā€” complete with coconuts ā€” that I sometimes pop into, enjoying the stillness as if Iā€™d been swimming underwater and suddenly came up into the air pocket of an overturned raft."

                  1. Yup, this is basically how it is. It's love-hate, but at the end of the day you cannot beat the prices.

                    I can appreciate that the parking lot is a zoo, but as a car-free person, I assure you all that the cab stand there isn't a walk in the park, either.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: LeoLioness

                      Well, now Price Rite has opened a branch on Squire Road in Revere, in addition to the location on the Lynnway in Lynn. Price Rite is a different kind of store - think like a grocery store version of BJs, not pretending to have everything, but what it has is often even lower priced than Market Basket, and there are some very good things to be had.

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        I found a new "back way" to walk to Market Basket which allows me to evade the parking lot altogether! My life insurance premiums immediately dropped by half.

                        1. re: hckybg

                          I think I know the back way of which you speak--little pink houses?. Unfortunately, once in a while I need to buy more than I can comfortably carry for my walk home, so I have to call/wait for a cab and hope no one steals it (or screams at me that I'm stealing the cab that I called for).

                          1. re: LeoLioness

                            Ha, yes that's the back way. Obviously the houses behind the Somerville Market Basket would be in bright pastel colors, it could be no other way.

                      2. If you have a cocktail beforehand and bring some headphones and the right kind of music, shopping at the the Somerveille MB is a lot more bearable.

                        You also need a strategy. For example, after coming up the one-way aisle, park your cart in the usually-empty coffee/diaper aisle and go grab a deli counter number, then move back on foot to the frozen fish and the milk. Which of course should be right next to each other. ?? They go together like....like coffee and diapers.

                        That place is ripe for a MIT student engineering project on efficiency and organization.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: dulce de leche

                          Oh I hope no one comes in and makes it efficient and organized! The article was a love letter to Somerville MB -- and all those who sail in her! I love its crazy "everyone in the pool!" vibe, although some days more than others. I find a nice xanax does the trick, especially on even nutsier days like the day before Thanksgiving or New Years Eve.

                          1. re: dulce de leche

                            See, I generally shake my fist at those who wear their iPods in MB. Pay attention! Look alive! Move when someone says "excuse me!"

                            Then again, I often go when I'm hungover or hungry, so I'm not helping matters any, either. Neither do the parents who put the child in charge of the shopping cart, so really, I guess we all suck in different ways.

                            As far as effiency, my rule of thumb is "no going back". It really is like being a salmon swimming upstream.

                            1. re: LeoLioness

                              My cognitive map of the place is comb-shaped rather than a zig-zag. You get your cart to the back, and then ride that spine, leaving the cart to run up aisles and back. That way you avoid the lines to check out and can skip all extraneous aisles.

                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                There's almost no way to turn the music up loud enough not to hear what's going on around you. I have to turn it up most of the way just to hear the music at all!

                                I don't think improving the efficiency and organization would lose any of the MB "charm." All God's Children would still be in the pool, just wouldn't need to stay there for an hour and a half to do the grocery shopping! I mean whole families are walking four generations abreast like it's the Champs Elysees or the Malecon.

                                1. re: dulce de leche

                                  The best thing a Somervile MB shopper can do is prepare - have a cocktail, meditate, whatever puts you in a peaceful space. Acknowledge that the experience won't be efficient or without obstacles, recognize that everyone else is there for the same reasons you are, and go. Headphones with good music are nice, but I also find that making eye contact with other shoppers as you try to navigate an aisle helps too. The unspoken understanding that a met gaze can bring that we're all in this together seems to make for a friendlier experience overall. I moved out of the Union Square area a couple years ago, so don't make it to the Somervile MB as often, and I miss it.

                                  1. re: dulce de leche

                                    Yes, a project would be interesting but I don't want anything changed. i know where everything is, the stockers are amazing and know where EVERYTHING is, including weird things.

                                  2. Great article, if a bit long. I, too, have done my time at the Somerville Market Basket. It's a lot like Boston driving. Or Boston politics. Or Nantasket Beach on an August day in 1955 (so I've been told). Crowded, aggressive, every man, woman and child fending for themselves. As a native, we wouldn't have it any other way.

                                    The newcomers? It usually tosses them for a bit of a loop.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: taos

                                      well, I find the somerville MB easier to navigate than your average whole foods store. People tend to be polite and aware of others (even the ones with four kids and two filled baskets) more than the folks at WF who just stop, stare, take up room, pretend no one else is there. There are lots more people and lots more encounters, but on the whole a much larger sense of gentility and politeness. My experience is that people move quickly to move their baskets to accommodate others. And many more interesting cultural encounters...I remember staring at culantro as opposed to cilantro next to a man for whom that is a native herb...he was amazed, and so was I and we got to share that. It's like walking into a hall of nations and every time I do, I feel lucky I live where I do. Yes, the parking lot is a zoo and the cabs another zoo, but this isn't white toast suburban america and i'm glad!

                                    2. Great article. I totally understand people's frustration with MB, but I wouldn't change a thing. I just don't think it's for everyone. I think the regular shoppers of MB get a bum rap from people who aren't familiar with the norms.

                                      There's a good reason that I tell visitors from pretty much anywhere other than NYC to park at Alewife and meet me near a T-Stop rather than driving through Cambridge or down Storrow. It's the same reason why I wouldn't send someone who wasn't from Boston or the immediate surrounding cities to the Somerville MB.

                                      IMHO it's *not* a bad thing, it's just that the urban culture around here places much greater value on speed and efficiency than the slower of our social niceties. People are generally nice and even friendly at that MB... just not if you're slowing them down.

                                      For example, suburban (or some slower-paced urban) grocery stores if someone momentarily parks their cart on one side of the isle and momentarily stoops down to look at something on the bottom shelf on the other side of the isle leaving very little room in the middle for someone to get through, it's generally considered more rude for someone to uncomfortably squeeze through (maybe making contact with the person or the cart or both) than it was to block the isle in the first place. In the context of our local culture, it's considered *significantly* more rude to have blocked the isle in the first place (even momentarily) and it's perfectly socially acceptable to aggressively squeeze past them if able, and if not able to inform them of their error and how quickly they need to rectify the situation.

                                      It's not like MB is mecca for impatient, efficiency minded urbanites... These aren't MB specific values at all. They hold true nearly everywhere around here where it's primarily city-dwellers that use the space, such as public busses, crowded sidewalks in non-tourist neighborhoods, convenience stores, subway stations, local bars, etc etc etc.

                                      I've discussed the various facets of this cultural tendency many times with fellow urbanites. There certainly are differences of opinion, but I believe it's because a) Boston has a very fast paced urban culture, b) we are constantly faced with the annoying complications of living and moving en masse in cramped spaces with inadequate infrastructure and extremely high population density, and c) realize that if we don't actively work to avoid these slowdowns at all costs, a much larger than necessary percentage of our life will be consumed by them.

                                      So I guess what I'm trying to say is when you come into Somerville to do your grocery shopping in a cramped little grocery store, all of the people who live in the city that also shop there are going to act the same way we act in all of the other fast paced, crowded spaces that we're in every day. It might not be smiley and relaxing, but it works. Can you imagine what would happen if even 1/3 of that number of shoppers descended on the Arlington Trader Joes? People would be politely excusing themselves right into a 3 hour shopping trip that could have taken 20 minutes.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. I lived in Union Square for 13 years and shopped there regularly. The trick is to go often enough that you can shop with a hand basket - it's much easier to get around the store if you're not trying to maneuver a cart.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: BobB

                                          I agree, though the irony of the Somerville Market "Basket" is that baskets themselves are fewer and farther between than at any other supermarket I've ever been in.

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            Totally agree - hand baskets are the only way to go, IF you can find one. I often have to hover vulture-like near the 12-items-or-less "express" line to snag one. And I NEVER park in the lot; love my Somerville parking permit that allows me to park on a side street and maintain my blood pressure at a healthy level while getting in and out of my favorite supermarket in a reasonable time.

                                          2. Ha ha! How the heck did I miss this?

                                            1. Ha! Cake walk, try Russo's on a busy Saturday morning.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: jjbourgeois

                                                Actually, if you know the layout and where the things you want are, Russo's is a breeze to shop even on a Saturday morning. There are a few tricks in terms of which aisles will have the fewest people in them and which cashier is always going to have the fewest number of people, but I think Russo's is easier to shop than the Somerville Market Basket.

                                                My own theory is that by the time they've dealt with the take-no-prisoners parking lot, everyone in the Somerville Market Basket is already on edge, and that's why it feels so zoo-like in there.

                                                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                  People with cars should just go to the Chelsea Basket anyway.
                                                  It's less than 5 driving miles away, and a totally different (awesome) experience.

                                                  1. re: rknrll

                                                    Or the Burlington MB, which is quite wonderful in its new incarnation.