Thursday, August 09, 2007

I Want a Paycheck

Sometimes I wish I had one of those sorts of husbands I could send to the grocery store with a list who wouldn’t arrive home having forgotten three very key things like coffee, milk, and bread while presenting me with fifteen bags of Fritos and ten boxes of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, because “They were on sale at such a great price!” But, I suppose (with that “you-can’t-have-it-all” rule so familiar to me), if I had that sort of husband, I’d have to relinquish the sort who whenever he goes anywhere without me and is offered something like a giant chocolate chip cookie, will ask if he can have two, so he can bring one home to me. I’d much prefer the latter sort of husband. Thus, since I also prefer to have some shelf space and food staples in my pantry, I do 95% of the grocery shopping in our house.

Grocery shopping isn’t quite as high on my “Hate-To-Do” list as clothes shopping is, but it comes pretty close. It wasn’t so bad when I could shop at this wonderful independent grocery store that had great meat selections and produce and extremely helpful employees (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that PA is full of such places, so I’ll be able to enjoy food shopping once we move) that was located right off the interstate that I could hop right back on to head down to Trader Joe’s (a store that really helps take the odiousness out of grocery shopping). I also nearly came close to liking grocery shopping when we lived in NYC, and I could go to Fairway, an over-crowded jumble of a place, but one that offers such a wonderful variety of unique and delicious foods, it’s worth the risk of claustrophobia. In my pre-telecommuting days, my office was located between Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s, so I could easily shop at lunch or after work. In the past two years, though, my independent grocer has been bought out by an unfamiliar and hideous chain; we no longer have the apartment in New York; and my office is no longer so conveniently located.

I’m stuck most of the time with the local “Stop ‘n’ Shop.” We have two that are probably equidistant from my house. Here’s my first complaint: why don’t grocery stores in the same chain all organize themselves the same way? Why is the produce section in “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A on the left-hand side of the store, while it’s on the right-hand side of the store in “Stop ‘n’ Shop” B? Why does “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A have a little alcove of its own, including a dairy section, for all its organic and natural foods, except canned organic beans, which are mixed in with the regular canned vegetables, while “Stop ‘n’ Shop” B houses all its organic food in one aisle, including canned beans, but mixes its frozen organic foods in with other frozen foods? It’s extremely frustrating for those of us anal enough to arrange our shopping list according to food locations in the store.

Also, it would be nice if these stores carried all the same foods. I shouldn’t have to remember that I can get my favorite yogurt at “Stop ‘n’ Shop” A (I’m beginning to hate the store even more as I write this, because it’s such a damned difficult name to type) but not at B. It took me forever to remember that I can get light coconut milk at store B (typing problem solved) but not at store A.

I bet I’m not the only one who’s noticed that these major chains, which seem to have hundreds of checkout counters, typically only have about three that are actually manned, and those are manned only by cashiers. In most stores, customers are being made to do more and more of the work. In the days when I worked as a grocery store cashier, each register had this being assigned to it called a bag boy, who did this amazing thing: put all the food into bags for the customers. Each grocery cart had a plastic number on it. The cashier would write the number on the receipt, the cart would be taken outside, and bagboys assigned to outside duty would wait for customers to drive up, would match the numbers to the carts, and would load the groceries into the customers’ cars. Talk about customer service! Other grocery stores had other systems in which the bagboys would roll the carts to customers’ cars for them and load them in the parking lot. Now, forget about curbside car-loading service. Most of the time, you're extremely lucky to get someone just to bag your groceries. And if you happen to be someone who brings your own canvas bags to the store, you end up preferring to bag your own, because baggers are always so sullen when made to use your bags.

First, it was customers having to bag their own groceries. Now, we have all these self checkout counters, so the customer does the work of the cashier and the bagboy. I have to admit, I kind of like the self checkout when I haven’t got too many items, not being the sort of person who loves to interact with strangers. I can get in and out without having to say a word to anybody, but still, the concept of the customer doing all the work bugs me. And now our stores have these gadgets you take around with you as you shop, scanning in each item as you go, and sticking it in the special register at the end to get your grand total. I draw the line at this one. At least at the regular self checkout, I can pretend it’s the good old days, and I’ve got a cashier there scanning in the items for me, but I’ve never had a personal cashier following me around the store as I go. That’s just a little creepy.

I’m beginning to wonder if we customers are soon going to have to take our own butcher knives from racks and chop our own meat. Maybe we’re going to be handed boxes of oranges and broccoli as we walk in the door and have to arrange them attractively in bins, as we try to avoid being hit by the showers from the automatic produce sprinklers. Maybe we’re going to have to start punching in and out on the time clock those people who are standing around with green smocks, "Stop ‘n’ Shop” nametags, and nothing to do. I want to know why we aren't getting paid.

Or, if I'm not going to get paid, a drop in prices might be nice. I mean, when a store is saving all that money by employing so few people, and when the customers are being made to do so much work, you’d think we’d benefit monetarily. But nope. The prices just keep going up and up. Trader Joe’s, which has plenty of employees to check out and bag your groceries (and where they will thank you if you bag your own) is far cheaper.

Maybe I need to rethink my attitude towards a husband who will go to the store looking for the cheapest items, regardless of whether or not we need them. At least he’s benefiting monetarily for all that hard work he’s doing.


Rebecca said...

Mike is right with you in detesting SnS (typing problem avoided), so much so that he now shops at the Big Y instead. I like grocery shopping (along with all other sorts of shopping) and I tend to ignore the store staff and listen to audio books or read magazines in the queue at the checkout. And I don't want anyone to pack for me, because, of course, they don't do it right, and they over bag. But I do feel for you non-shopping types!

mandarine said...

Exercise your only right as a consumer: shop somewhere else.

For instance, google:

farmer's markets pennsylvania

PS: buying discount goods that you do not need is a net loss. A smaller one, but a loss all the same.

Emily Barton said...

Becky, I read magazines, too, although they always seem to be ultrafast at checking me out just when I've found something particularly interesting to read.

Mandarine, great minds think alike. Just the other day, I did a farmer's market search for PA and discovered I'm going to be in heaven (I think) when I move. I also discovered that PA is one of the few states where it isn't illegal to sell raw milk.

IM said...

What I can't stand is how they put one item, a pack of batteries say, in a single plastic bag. That's when I tell them I'll take paper. Ten environment choking plastic bags for ten items.

The old Lowes Foods where we used to shop had become an hispanic market. The produce is amazing, reminds me of Costa Rica. You have to know when to go becuase if it is crowded it is hard to just run in and run out. Saturday mornings you have the place to yourself and they restock on Friday night. It is cheap as well, without a cashier demanding some "discount card" that I never have ready, or don't even know if I have one. Those chains all seems designed to scr*w the customer without them noticing.

Rebecca H. said...

I hope the shopping is perfect in PA! This post makes me so grateful for my wonderful grocery store half a mile away.

Anonymous said...

Our sisterhood is re-cemented after those nerve-rattling differences of a week ago. I (a.) hate grocery shopping, (b.) often buy light coconut milk, (c.) completely identify with this post. Oh my's like you were inside my head when you wrote this. And yes, I make my grocery list by where the food is in the store - is there any other way?

Emily Barton said...

Ian, oh yes, I hate that one item in each plastic bag phenomena. I also hate it when you ask for paper bags, and they line them with plastic bags. The Hispanic market sounds awesome. What I'm really looking forward to is food shopping and cooking with you the first time you visit us in Lancaster County (maybe we'll rent Ratatouille beforehand? Or Babette's Feast, one of my all-time favorites.

Court, phew! Glad to know our sisterhood is still in tact, because I so want to be related to you.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, yes, I so wish I lived within walking distance of your wonderful market!

Froshty said...

I hate grocery shopping, too, but in the last 5 years, it's been made a little easier by my living in walking distance from a grocery store, so that it's rare that I shop anywhere else. The other phenomena I hate it is the grocery store that's the size of an airport. You walk in and you're greeted with lawn furniture, a bank offering low-rate home mortgages, and personal computers and you have to walk about half a mile before you find any actual food. Recently, Wayne and I went into that store to see if it carried an item that our local store doesn't carry anymore, and it took us about 20 minutes to figure out where the aisles of food were. By the way, we got a Trader Joe's in Cary and I love it!