Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

I hate showing my age, but I can remember a time before there were large supermarkets, when each little country town had a small family-operated grocery store or two to keep the locals provisioned. Especially among farm families, most of us butchered our own meats, got milk from our own dairy herds and canned or froze vegetables and fruits grown in our own gardens. Nevertheless, there were always assorted ingredients necessary to cooking and baking that had to be purchased “in town.”

In this era of supermarkets, it seems that folks stop to buy supplies on an almost daily basis, but when I was a little girl, we shopped for food once a week on a Friday night. It was a family excursion to a nearby town with a small grocery store owned by a friend of my parents. My mother’s sister, Miriam, sometimes worked the cash register there and packed our grocery items into a cardboard box or two in which the store had previously received some of its own supplies. This was before the term “recycling” existed, but it was clearly a good example of cardboard recycling.

Poor Aunt Mim would likely have been out of a job these days. Grocery stores have not only gotten much larger and carry a far wider assortment of items beyond mere foodstuffs, but the job of check-out clerk is rapidly disappearing, as more and more check-out counters become self-service. These points were recently emphasized to me when I stopped by a local supermarket.

I’m not sorry that most supermarkets these days carry things like greeting cards, gift cards and health and beauty aids; some even have a drugstore right on the premises. One-stop shopping is a nice thing, but sometimes I think perhaps grocery stores have gone a step too far in trying to become all things to all people.

To be honest, Dennis is the main grocery shopper in our family. He loves going to grocery stores, often stopping at family-owned markets on his way home from work some distance away. He’ll often bring homemade-tasting soups or desserts along with him for suppertimes when we might not have enough time after chores to make a full meal ourselves.

Meanwhile, I generally stick closer to home when I need ingredients for recipes on my agenda. Recently, one local supermarket has been in the process of doing a major remodeling so it can sell alcoholic beverages and provide a café for on-site consumption. I’m among other shoppers at this store who feel annoyed by these new additions.

There’s been a month of annoyance with many store items being relocated and store-goers like me wandering through narrowed aisles on a scavenger hunt for the things on our grocery lists. There has also been a noticeable decrease in the number and variety of groceries on the remaining shelves. This may be related to the space necessary to create the new section of the store, but hopefully is only temporary until the renovations are completed.

On almost every trip I make to this chain grocery store, I run into several grumbling customers who seem to verbalize my own thoughts on this subject. Why put an alcoholic beverage section inside a supermarket located in a small shopping center that already has a state liquor store and a beer distributor?

My further pet peeve has to do with the location of the new “café” within the grocery store. It is placed in the center of the produce section, which seems odd to start with. And then there’s the “ambience” of the café’s two stainless steel countertops with matching stools, which have a decidedly unappealing industrial look. As two of my fellow shoppers commented recently, who would want to have a beer in that setting with your neighbors strolling by pushing their grocery carts?

Presumably some corporate entity has done market research to determine this is what grocery store-goers want these days. As for me, I find myself longing for the bare wooden floors and narrow aisles of the now long-gone grocery store from my youth, where only the necessities were found. It was a friendly neighborhood atmosphere and “buy fresh, buy local” was just part of the natural order of things.

All this makes me look forward to the upcoming growing season when there will be plenty of small roadside markets to buy produce that came from the fields you can see surrounding them. Call me an old-fashioned farmer, but not all old ways are bad, just like not all “progress” is necessarily good.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.


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