My New Old Grocery Store

Today I made the first weekly shopping trip in over ten years to a grocery store that wasn’t Wegmans. I’ve popped into other stores from time to time to pick up odds and ends, but not to do my weekly grocery shopping. I go to Wegmans for that. I used to go to Wegmans for that. Now I’ve gone back to doing my weekly grocery shopping at Kleins/Shoprite, what I call my new old grocery store. I call it that because I just started shopping there this week (the new part), but I used to shop there for many years before Wegmans opened back in 2011 (the old part).

I wish I could say on my first trip back to my new old grocery store the clouds parted and angelic choirs sang “Welcome back old friend” as I arrived, but it wasn’t like that. The store is no better than Wegmans and in some respects it is worse. It’s not like I’m saving money…prices are about the same. So why do I go there now? Because it is one mile from my house and Wegmans is three miles. I’m very lucky to have a choice. It sounds like such a small thing, two miles, yet that pretty much sums up the difference between the two stores. Well, that and the fact that as old and dingy as my new old grocery store is, I’ve never encountered piles of dog shit up and down the aisles as I did on my last trip to Wegmans. Which is why that was my last trip to Wegmans.

Divorcing your grocery store is a difficult thing to do, no matter the reason. I loved shopping at Wegmans. There were things about Wegmans that I didn’t care for from the outset, but that I tolerated just the same because I loved it. I did not love the layout of the store…it seemed as though someone sat down and plotted out the least logical way to organize things from a shopper’s perspective. I got used to it, even organized my grocery list around it. Every six months they would move things around, put the rice in aisle 17 instead of 18, just to make things difficult. Still I tolerated it because I loved the store.

One thing I never got used to about Wegmans was how people treated it as more of a social outing than the serious business of grocery shopping. They would clog up the aisles as they formed their in-store coffee klatches, reaching for their Starbucks lattes from the cup holder Wegmans conveniently built into their shopping carts. I used the cup holder for flowers, or bug spray. I’d find a way around the klatchers only to encounter yet another group in the next aisle. And so it went. I won’t miss that. They’ve been replaced since COVID by the Instant Cart shoppers, who in their own ways are just as bad. I didn’t encounter any during my first trip to my new old grocery store but I’m sure I will.

Maybe I’m the problem. I’m too intolerant, I’ll certainly admit to that. I take my food too seriously for shopping to be a social event. Maybe I should do my grocery shopping on the internet…I’m halfway there already. I order all of my seafood online and have it shipped to my house from Alaska, I get my beef from Roseda Farms which I can order online if I don’t feel like making the 17 mile drive to the farm, I order my cats’ food from Chewy, I get my fresh produce from the local CSA eight months out of the year, and I order specialty food items from Amazon.com whenever Wegmans doesn’t have it for more than two weeks in a row. I never thought Old Bay would be one of those items, but for too long of a stretch last year it was. Months. It’s not like you can’t get Old Bay in other Maryland grocery stores…just not at Wegmans apparently. I ordered it from Amazon and got two large cans the next day.

That was the kind of thing that began happening too often, and it wasn’t limited to Old Bay…it seemed like every trip I made something on my grocery list was out of stock. It had me wondering why I still shopped there. People are quick blame it on “supply chain” problems and I can accept that some of the time. For the longest time…months…none of the grocery stores in the area had caffeine free diet Pepsi. Not my drink of choice…Janet’s. I’m fortunate to have half a dozen or so grocery stores within 15 miles of my house, and when they are all out of the same item, then I can accept the supply chain excuse. But when I can go to any other grocery store in the area and find that they have what Wegmans doesn’t, the supply chain argument doesn’t wash. It just means their supply chain failed. Wegmans is particularly vulnerable to that because they own their distribution system, unlike most other grocery stores that use a third party distributor. Of course as I discovered this week, there are still items my new old grocery store doesn’t have. At least they have Old Bay.

I would say I’ll miss the fresh produce, seafood, and meat. Those were the things I liked most when I first started shopping at Wegmans, but if I’m being honest I won’t miss them at all. The products aren’t as fresh as they used to be, they don’t source as much locally as they did, and they no longer staff the departments with people that know a thing or two. The produce department no longer has the equivalent of a green grocer, the fish mongers left the seafood department years ago not to be replaced, and the butcher is barely hanging on since Wegmans started getting most of their meat pre-cut and pre-packaged from the fourth largest meat packing plant in the country. The fresh food departments are now staffed with shelf-stockers. They aren’t as knowledgeable as the people that came before them, nor are they as transparent. They’ve told me things recently about the products in their respective departments that I know to be wrong…what I don’t know is whether they know them to be wrong. Either way, it’s not a good situation for someone as serious about food as I am. Which is why I now get my fresh food products directly from the source as much as I can.

Aside from the bright and shiny new-store feel Wegmans offers, even still at 10 years old, it has little else to offer me these days, and plenty of reasons for me not to shop there. I’ll get used my new old grocery store again, but it will take time. My first return trip there for weekly shopping reminded me of all the things I didn’t like about it before I started going to Wegmans. The fact is I would find something to dislike in any grocery store, so I need to suck it up, go through my list, fill my cart, and then get my ass out of there. That internet grocery shopping is looking better all the time!

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