Supermarket Mania

By Homeowner Harry (Another in a series of observations about life in West Midwood as it is lived today…or maybe not)

So there I was driving in to the Key Food parking lot at Prospect & 11th Avenues in June when I saw this big sign in the window: “Going Out of Business. Must Sell All Items. Half Price.” Shocked I asked the gals at the check out who had been taking care of me for 20 years whether this could possibly be true. Yes, I was told mournfully, they learned for themselves earlier in the week and would all be going on unemployment if no other cashier jobs opened up elsewhere.

I had a love-hate relationship with Key Food. Mostly I loved the fact that every Saturday at 8am I could roll up, do my shopping for the family for a week in an almost empty store and be home again after a total elapsed time of 45 minutes. True, the variety of most products wasn’t very good and you never knew from week to week whether the [fill in the blank] you had been buying for [fill in the blank] years was suddenly and unaccountably no longer there - with no plans to restock it. But it had become part of my life and it was a link to my past. Once I moved here from Park Slope, and owned a driveway for the first time in my life, I could do things without having to worry about losing a precious parking spot within a half-mile of my abode. Now I could actually drive to a supermarket – and in 1988, that Key Food was perfectly situated, mid-way between my old haunts in the North Slope and Argyle Heights. So I began sliding by some of those specialty shops on 7th Avenue, then I’d get the groceries at Key Food and head back home. Or to Farrell’s Bar. But that’s another story.
As I rolled my cart around for the last time through aisles now half-depleted, memories flooded back of shopping expeditions from times gone by with my son and wife…After last goodbyes to everyone except the rude manager Mike and one of the old grumpy deli guys, I found myself near tears. Does nothing ever last in this damn city? In the days that followed, my sadness turned to anger as I learned the place would now become the 83rd drug store within a 3-mile radius of Argyle Heights. Then I decided that since my family’s appetite waited for no one, I would sort through my alternatives.

The nearest possible replacement supermarket with a parking lot was ShopRite on McDonald, just north of Foster. But alas and alack, even on a Saturday morning when Shabbat observance kept the volume of customers relatively low, the lack of order was off-putting. Haphazard lines would form at checkout and there always seemed to be unaccountable delays caused by food stamp issues, backing people up into the aisles – it just wasn’t well designed. Plus, I felt unwelcome, just another cart in a sea of shoppers with whom I had nothing in common – we were all transients there who couldn’t wait to depart on the next checkout back to a land of order.

So I decided to expand my purview and on to Google Maps I went. Super Stop & Shop! I loved the one in Orleans on Cape Cod and to my amazement, here was another one at Tilden and Flatbush, across from the north end of the huge Sears parking lot, and yet another at Avenue Y and East 17th Street. I tried the one on Tilden first but as I got delayed by a long line of cars and saw that my only option was rooftop parking shared with all the other stores amidst a traffic gridlock off Flatbush Avenue, I realized this was not for me. So then it was off to Avenue Y. By 10am on a Saturday, the parking lot was almost full. Not a good sign. And the store, consuming half a square city block, should have been renamed Super Crowded. Check out took forever, and the store just had an uninviting, sprawling antiseptic feel.

On to the next.

Friends and family and neighbors all suggested I should try Fairway in Red Hook. What? I might as well drive to Manhattan, it just seemed so far away. But after a month of wandering in the wilderness, I was desperate. So I took out my trusty GPS, punched in the 480 Van Brunt Street address and was amazed to find it was only 15 minutes away -- Ocean Pkwy to Hamilton Avenue, left on Van Brunt and there I was.

But the first time was a disaster. I got there around 9am when the store was already getting crowded. It had an unusual design, funneling everyone through fruit and vegetables and then a deli counter, and a cheese counter, and a butcher and a fish counter…each of which seemed like they could take up a whole aisle in Key Food. Somehow I next wound up in the kosher food section that was so big, it seemed like I had entered a parallel supermarket world. Lost and bewildered by all the choices, I freaked out and left the store – but it took me another 10 minutes to find the exit and on the way I saw something that I never saw at Key Food: a tub of Abraham’s baba gounoush. I snatched up a tub and checked out.

The next week I needed more baba gounoush so this time I decided to show up when the store opened at 8am. Actually I got there a little early and one of the guys started waving to those of us sitting in our cars, “Come on in, we’re open!” Wow! That never happened at any other supermarket I’ve been to. So I grabbed a cart that had a directory of the store displayed on the handle bar and after some anxious moments, gradually found my way around. I was struck by the choice and the quality of the food. Here I could get all the staples I bought at Key Food but I could also get warm, soft bagels and delicious almond croissants and bags of freshly made malted milk balls, and thick steaks and half a leg of lamb and roast beef to die for and…As if that wasn’t enough, the staff were all helpful, courteous and prompt. Plus there was an outside cafĂ© and esplanade along the water with great views of the Statue of Liberty.

So I have to haltingly concede: sometimes things do change for the better. Of course by the time this story is printed, Fairway might have gone out of business or the sea might have swallowed Red Hook. But one thing will always remain the same: those gentle winds blowing on a beautiful late summer night here, high atop Argyle Heights as I dip my pita into some excellent baba gounoush.

Published 10/21/12 11:38AM

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