When my wife and I moved into our current apartment in 2003, there were three nearby supermarkets.

The Key Food on Court Street closed a few weeks after we moved there.  It was replaced by a drugstore.  At the time, we didn’t think much about it.

A couple of years ago, the Met Food on Smith Street closed.  It wasn’t the nearest supermarket, but it was close enough, and near a subway station, so it was convenient, and they had good meat.  It now appears that the building will be demolished and replaced with overpriced apartments.

That left the Pathmark, a bigger, almost suburban supermarket in an industrial space by the Gowanus Canal, with a parking lot out front.  But Pathmark is an A&P brand: A&P went bust last year, and the store closed just before Thanksgiving.  (‘A&P,’ short for ‘The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company,’ was one of my earliest childhood memories.  Oh, well….)

One used to be able to take for granted that living in the city meant being no more than 10 minutes’ walk, at the absolute limit, from a functional supermarket.  But not anymore.

Now, there are still plenty of places to buy food:

  • There are a couple of gourmet grocery stores on Court Street, with good produce and really expensive meat.
  • There is a Trader Joe’s on Atlantic Avenue, in a former temple-of-capitalism bank building. Trader Joe’s turns on the notion that if one carefully selects the merchandise, one can have a functional grocery store in a relatively small space.  And it works: about 90% of the foodstuffs we buy come from there.  But the place is maniacally crowded on Sundays and the day before a holiday (or snowstorm).
  • There is a Fairway in Red Hook, about 15 minutes away on the bus. They include a full selection of packaged goods, as well as a full gourmet grocery selection.  But they’re expensive and a bit awkward to get to.
  • And there is the nearest old-school supermarket, the Key Food on Atlantic Avenue. I was in high school when the place opened in the 1970s.  It’s cramped and a bit decrepit.  While it’s a serviceable supermarket, it’s a hike from our apartment.

While we’re not at risk of going hungry, there is no longer one place that we can readily visit that has meats and vegetables and pasta sauce and diet Coke and dish soap and toilet paper, all under one roof, at reasonable prices

While Trader Joe’s has most of the foodstuffs covered, they’re wanting in the packaged goods department.  Some of the drugstores sell detergent and other household items, and cases of soda, but it’s a bit hit-or-miss.

I found that Amazon, of all places, has many of the packaged goods, in larger sizes than the grocery stores (e.g. 27-roll packages of toilet paper), but at competitive prices with free (postal service/UPS) delivery.  It boggles the mind that, someone in a far-off warehouse can box six cans of pasta sauce, and post them to my house, for about the same price (actually a little cheaper!) that I would pay in a supermarket.

The only non-perishables that Amazon doesn’t do well are beverages: bottled water and soda.  I could pay for Prime Fresh, but the extra $200/year over Amazon Prime isn’t worth it.  (Prime Fresh also has groceries—including perishables—for overnight or later-the-same-day delivery.  But having tried them before they raised the price, they’re only so-so at meats and produce.)  But I’ve found other sources for those items, as well.

It used to be so simple, and now it’s gotten so weird.

2 thoughts on “Supermarkets”

  1. I’m seeing a similar consolidation here in eastern Colorado. Kroger bought out Safeway a couple of years ago. Although no stores have closed yet in my area, I expect either the Safeway or King Sooper’s that are about a mile apart near my house to close within the next year. King Sooper is a brand of Kroger supermarkets as is Loaf ‘N Jug (convenience stores), City Market, Smith’s, and others that I forget. Similarly, Von’s is a brand name of Safeway supermarkets. .

    Typically, supermarkets carry low-margin goods. As more people use credit cards to pay for their groceries, something that started about 25 years ago, more of the 3% credit card fee has to be passed on to customers. One answer to this problem is to carry higher-margin goods and try to attract an upscale clientele .

    One of the big competitors in grocery stores is Wal-Mart. I used to shop there more, but not after they started closing at midnight. I used to keep really strange hours due to shift work, but those days are over.

    Not having a car forces (encourages?) you to shop at one generally good store rather than shop around. I learned this when I chose not to have a car for about eight years (1992-2000). I was lucky at the time. There was a Safeway about half a mile from my house and a Giant supermarket on the local bus line. If I wanted to shop at Giant, I had to commit to about a two-hour round trip.

    I don’t think that it is weirder as much as the grocery market is getting more segmented.

  2. You are right: it’s gotten weird.

    I don’t know what happened to supermarkets — they are touch and go in my area.

    All of the A&Ps are gone and so are all the Acmes.

    We seem to have only a Stop and Shop and a Shop Rite and it makes no sense how they “place” these supermarkets. There are 5 Shop Rites within a 15 mine radius and 5 Stop and Shops.

    My ole hometown is still griping away about “waaahhhhh get us a supermarket…” The town once had an Acme and a Stop an Shop.

    The Acme closed 12 years ago; it was a 1950s sized store and the owner of the property it was on didn’t want any expansion.

    There was no room to expand; it is on a tiny little piece of property. The trend is toward these “super” stores — cover at least half a block with expansive produce/hot food departments and offering things like a nutritionist and a walking club and a liquor emporium.

    The Stop and Shop is long gone. it was part of a strip mall. The owners of that mall sold off the land to another developer who razed the mall and put 4 big box stores in its place. Where the S&S was a Bob’s Furniture is….and about half a mile up the road is a shitty Walmart. I never liked their grocery section.

    So there is no supermarket there now — I never routinely did my food shopping in either store; I always went to the ShopRite one town over, the one I am living in now. That town has a ShopRite and a Stop and Shop.

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