Friday, February 8, 2008

Flashback Friday: Trrrrreeaaattttttssssss!



Okay, so I want to support Cable Girl of 42 in what I think is a wonderful effort, so I'm doing Flashback Friday today, and encouraging people to visit her site and read the other Flashback Friday entries, but honestly speaking, I'm only flashing back.... to...

yesterday.

I have a pre-diabetic guinea pig. And yes, I promise you this is not another Jen post about the wonders and perfection of guinea pigs.

But anyway, Pookie Girl is pre-diabetic. And she needs glipizide twice a day. And the only way she'll take it is to know a treat (ie. a bit of cucumber, or an herb, or some other green, non-sugary vegetable) is waiting for her. And, of course, her sisters wouldn't understand if Pookie Girl got a treat and they didn't. Because piggies don't roll that way. So... twice a day, I call out, "Do I have a good girl?" And Pookie Girl comes running up to me and takes her .07 mg of glipizide and then I call out "Treeeeaaaatttttsssss!" and all the piggies scramble to the bottom the cage to see what wonder awaits.

Okay, so I promised this wouldn't be about pigs. And it's not. About guinea pigs, in any case.

But I have to admit, I was reminded just what a small town I live in yesterday. And this is why.

A new grocery store opened just down the road from me. But it's not just any store... oh, no, it's an organic/all natural/gourmet food/pharmacy/wine seller with salad and hot food bar, and a pizza station and homemade breads and pastries and a sushi bar, a See's candies shop and a Zingerman's cafe. I was happy for two reasons: one, I can now buy a gallon of milk easily when I run out. Two, I have to admit - I'm a foodie, and the temptation of all that was very... tempting.

I didn't, however, expect what I ran into.

Now, this super-duper fancy a-- grocery store is darned similar to a mega Whole Foods that we already have in another part of town. In addition, Whole Foods is opening their biggest store in the state of Michigan in yet another part of town. We have a mostly organic/local/natural food store that's been in business for 30 years that's independent. We have two, local gourmet shops with a wide variety of produce, meats and groceries. We have a well-stocked, amazing food co-op. We have a Trader Joe's. In the summers, we have three separate days of farmers markets. We have representatives of four grocery chains - all of which are well-stocked, clean and reasonably-priced.

And we're a city of a whopping 100,000.

Makes you wonder.

But this morning, you would have thought that the people in my town had never seen food before. It was as if someone had blasted "Trrrrrreeeeeeeaaaaaaattttttsssss!!!!" through the tornado sirens, and all the good citizens were scrambling like lemmings to take cover in the aromas of Peet's coffee and the perfume of fresh bergamot.

Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country. It seems like every third house is for sale. Houses in my neighborhood have been on the market for two years. No one works permanently anymore - almost everyone is on yearly contract. A successful job is one with health insurance.

And it makes me wonder... are we really all a bunch of guinea pigs, following the latest trend, getting into debt because we're told we need "stuff"?

Yeah, the new store is really nice.

But is it really necessary?

28 comments:

anno said...

I know what you mean. I often wonder the same thing. Apparently there's more money than you might expect hiding behind those ragged T-shirts and worn birkenstocks. Or at least more people who would rather spend money on food than clothes.

On the other hand, maybe they're all on the same quest I am: for a single store that carries fabulously fresh local and organic produce, Zingerman's bread, Peet's coffee, an extensive selection of imported cheese & meat, and a delectable array of prepared foods and carryout treats..... all at a very reasonable price, and without the parking/driving hassles of those stores across town. Does the new store fit the bill?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It fits the bill as far as Zingerman's and Peet's. Cheese selection is good - not sure about meat. No parking hassles (and this would be closer for you than WF), and as far as pricing goes, it's about on par with WF - some prices even matched Trader Joe's. Some were the same as Whole Foods. There are great bargains there now, though, in terms of the opening week stuff. If you head down there, let me know - it's five minutes for me and we can grab a cup of coffee there.

cablegirl said...

I wonder if it's just the newness of the thing. I mean, how can a relatively small community like yours (yes, I realize 100,000 is that small, but...) support so many stores. Something surely has to give. Even in a great economy I can't imagine them all surviving.

Personally I eschew them all (except for meats and cheeses) and just hit the 3x weekly farmers markets. mmmm

Thanks for playing with me. :D

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Well, that's my question exactly, CG!

Lilacspecs said...

I can definitely agree with you there, although there are certainly plenty of times when I miss having an all-in-one store open 24/7.

Oh and I tried that eggplant lentil stew over couscous last night and it was awesome! And really easy! Hope you don't mind if I link to your site for the recipe?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And I'd love a link back to the site - thanks. Also, I think your new "look" is awesome. I'm behind on commenting, but I read last night. ;-)

Greg said...

Jen, your question is a good one, shading as it does into our obsession with consumerism. How many choices do we need? What is reinforced in such an array of choices is, I think, consumerism itself. How radical those folks who patronize farmer's markets, or who grown their own food!

Mae Travels said...

Thanks for the tip: I'm looking forward to checking out the new store, though I live nearer to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Hillers' Market, Morgan & York, and Produce Station -- all great places to shop.

About your assessment of the situation here: the US Census website estimates 344,047 as the 2006 population of Washtenaw County. Quite a large percent are in striking distance of the range of stores you described. Residents are also affluent, despite the terrible economic downturn recently. So the number of stores may not be that disproportionate.

As for your observations of demand/supply/responsibility: I suspect that Whole Foods knows what it's doing. No one can tell, though, if this new store has a viable business plan. Unfortunately for them, the downturn has accelerated while they were in the planning and building stages, so for their sake, I hope they have lots of reserves to get them going. We will know in a couple of years.

Census Data for Washtenaw Co: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/26161.html

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Jen, that is so funny. I started doing Flashback Fridays a couple post ago. I will have to check out Cable Girl's blog.

Los Angelista said...

I read somewhere about Whole Foods being called "Whole Paycheck" and I've started calling it that too. All of the goods are great, but it does seem consumerist to have all of that. Plus, there's no way it needs to cost that much.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Greg and Liz - yeah, it's the consumerism thing and expense that gets me. In terms of the farmer's markets - easier to do some places than in the Midwest in winter, as we all know, I think. On the other hand, choice is good, and as Mae pointed out, the others have been supporting themselves easily.

Mae - I'd rather see this place make it than Whole Foods, just because it's local. I'm also distressed by what Whole Foods did to that fishmonger - I'd known him for a long time - he's a good guy.

NYC - you've probably seen my comments on that on your blog by now! ;-)

Thalia's Child said...

That's really interesting - Hometown is a shade smaller that your town (about 85-90K) and we have 4 "Save-On Foods" (a big Western Canadian chain that has smallish stores), a Superstore (a giant Canadian chain that sells furniture and toys and clothing as well as food) and Costco. We can't even support a Safeway.

Needless to say, even though there's a Save-On a few blocks form my house, I still trek across town to the Superstore - it's wayyyyyy cheaper.

Sandy C. said...

That's a great question. I wonder why they would feel inclined to open a store like this...and moreover, if it will last. Sounds like something will have to give eventually if the economy doesn't improve....

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent, hard questions.

I love our town of 3,000, and we have an excellent summer/fall farmers' market, but I wish we had a Whole Foods or a Traders Joe's close by...

MartiniTime said...

I'm totally with you on the "how many do we really need?" issue. Once the novelty wears off, will this new market last? Hard to say. Thing is, I can't put Trader Joe's and WF in the same category exactly, since while the former has all sorts of great organic and natural products, their prices don't bankrupt me -- and I really wonder about the sustainability of another market if it's in the WF range.

Blog-rolling for the first time... visiting you for the first time... I live 15 miles from you IRL, and I'm pretty sure I'll be back... :)

Tara R. said...

It's like that in my town too. A bunch of lemmings running to the latest posh, posh boutique to buy the newest, fanciest gizmo or organic something, something. I'd much rather shop at the mom/pop vegetable stand down the road.

Sarabeth said...

I think many, many people go for things because they want something and are never satisfied with what they have.

Blog hopping--HP

Karen MEG said...

Two Whole Foods in that size of town? That's amazing! My sister shops at the one near her and everything is so expensive!
I guess it's just riding that whole organic wave. It's great that there are more stores to employ more people; but let's hope they can be supported enough to keep them employed.

Emma Sometimes said...

Trader Joes...hmmmm. Two buck chuck!

blog hoppin
Mox on The Rocks

Zoe's Dad said...

If you build it, they will come....

margarita miss (weekend blog hoppin') said...

I think its the lure of something new that always draws people out of their shells. Good post!!

Goofball said...

good questions that my snotty brain cannot answer right now!

Hilary said...

Great post. I used to be in the "industry". I was at a health food convention once, and got introduced to an entrepreneur that was launching a new chain of mega gourmet natural food supplement stores. He was opening his new one less than a mile from the Whole Foods. I looked him straight in the eye and said "There are plenty of locations that don't have a health food store. Do you really need to cannabalize another store's business?"

His store closed within a year. I don't know if any independent stores lost business in the interim, but they did have crazy sales and promotions in the beginning and got a lot of people in there.

Wholly Burble said...

I live in a town of 84 people--some of that number I believe are cats, but we needed the government revenue so they added more bodies . . .

Anyway, I have to drive to get anything--and most of the time it's a minimum of fifty miles to the nearest city with any selection. However, the town where I was born, where my mom still lives, is where I do much of my shopping. It draws between its own population and that of the communities and rural areas around it--so it has around 130,000 population to draw on.

STILL, it amazes me that Waterloo seems to have a grocery store, two restaurants, and one gas station on every four-cornered cross street of any size. I keep thinking, if everyone is buying all these groceries, then who's eating at the restaurants? And vice versa LOL?

Unfortunately, healthy, organic food choices are RARE--I can only think of one in the entire area--sad. One of the larger grocery stores has begun carrying some organic foods--but few choices and HIGH prices.

Flower Child said...

I live in a popular neighborhood in a major city and would kill for your choices. There are some of the ones you describe but they are a good walk from my apartment (no owning a car in this town) and crowded crowded crowded. And unemployment is low. Go figure.

Jane the Sane said...

I am jealous. I also live in MI but in the frozen North. I've never even seen a Whole Foods or anything like it. Ok, once in Chicagoland. As for the store it is probably because it is all pretty and shiny.

Fourier.Analyst said...

The image of your piggies and their response to "Treeeaats" is so great for imagining this. And ys, for some reason we all seem to respond to the "next new thing". But will it last? The trouble with such stores is that if in 3-5 years they do not make the turnover projections that upper management has set for them, then they cut their losses and pull out. Meanwhile the Mom-&-Pop operations that had been running for 20+ years prior to the superstore appearance have had to fold up shop. So what happens when there is no one to buy milk from withing a 40 mile radius?

One of these days we are really going to have to examine our definitions of "progress".

Leslie said...

I live out in the boonies. We don't have many options out there. Thank goodness for the farming and Amish communities - they have a lot to offer in terms of healthy, organic food choices, but it certainly isn't all in once place. But that's alright with me. I think a lot of what you're describing is why we chose to live a little out of the loop.