We were once in love. It started, like most loves, at a time when I was more naive than now….
I’ve had a sorted past with supermarkets. I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to who or why before I was twenty five. Back then it was in and out, a quick fix. I wasn’t loyal. Casel’s and Party Pak in Margate, Shop Rite in Philadelphia, Schnuck’s in St. Louis, Upim in Rome. I couldn’t tell you a thing about them, faceless names from my past. They certainly served a need, and may have even facilitated some artistic accomplishments. But they, I regret to say, meant very little me.
It wasn’t until I moved to Boulder, Colorado in the early 90s that I started to pay more attention to my markets. It all started with the legendary Alfalfa’s. She was the queen of Boulder and I was a young, strong-willed, naive buck, who needed to be tamed. Here is how we met:
I moved to Boulder without a dime to my name. I chose Boulder because I had a place to crash and a ride from St. Louis, where I had been living with my girlfriend as she finished up at Washington U. I knew little about the place. I arrived at the end of the school year and there was chaos on campus. Kids were smoking pot in the streets. Parties raged at all hours. There were a lot of smelly white kids with dreadlocks and trust funds. I was clearly out of my element.
During the first few days I planned my escape from this crazy place many times. My ex comforted me and convinced me to stay. Go out and explore a little bit. Get settled. So I set out in search of a supermarket to stock up on some supplies. I hunted around “the Hill” where there were nothing but corner stores, bars and restaurants. In a bar that smelled of stale beer a young waitress with the requisite dreads and jean-shorts pointed me down The Hill. Alfalfa’s dude.
When I entered Alfalfa’s I started looking for some bread and peanut butter. Scant money. Simple. I navigated aisle upon aisle of bulk foods, herbal teas, asymmetrical produce, bins and barrels overflowing with quinoa and flaxseed. Where the peanut butter should have been was a grinder with fresh peanuts. Ew. That ain’t skippy. There were jars of almond butter, tahini and $5 jars of “peanut butter “with a thick pool of oil on the top. I just wanted some damn skippy – super chunk. I was ready to cry. Don’t even get me started on the bread.
This was my rude awakening to the conscious age of enlightened shopping. And while Alfalfa’s taught me much, I was still young and stubborn. I ultimately left it for Ideal Market in North Boulder, a gentler market, which was near the community gardens where I supplemented my food supply by growing my own. These were wonderful, wild and free times. I never grew dreads, but I did own plenty of jean-shorts and often smelled.
Then I moved to the big city. After Boulder, everyone went to San Francisco. It was at the peak of the .com era and there was an energy I’ve never experienced before. Rents were outrageous and occupancy was at 100%. I had to interview with hoards of others to score a room in a flat in the Mission. Everyone was talking about their internet startup, stock options, riding scooters in their office, free lunches and Trader Joes. Trader Joes was the young, cool place to shop – I wanted in!
TJs captured the energy of the Bay Area at that time by thinking outside the box. We were reinventing the economy, so why not the supermarket? They worked out crazy deals to repackage and brand foods so that everything had a TJs vibe. Most things tasted pretty good. Their wine was cheap. They had an eye for the exotic and also the familiar. For a while, I was a serious TJs devotee. As a single guy, it wasn’t hard to survive on TJs alone. My needs were filled. I was in love.
As the years went by I found myself relying on TJs less and less. Like any relationship, we reached a level of comfort and the spark was gone. TJs was part of a routine. It became a stop in my cycle of marketing that included Safeway (which I dropped years ago) for essentials and Mollie Stones (I moved too far away) for gourmet goods. I couldn’t quite make the leap to Whole Foods at first, but ultimately I gave in and then they opened one up in my neighborhood, Potrero Hill. Maybe it reminded too much of Alfalfa’s, which I had psychologically left behind (note Alfalfa’s was purchased by Wild Oats, which ultimately was purchased by Whole Foods). For a long time, I was on autopilot and I was ok.
But then came sustainability. Oh, darn you conscience! To the enlightened mind, even Whole Food looks tainted (though I am definitely seeing them make an effort, but that’s another post). It had been a few months since I hit TJs and I’ve avoided putting it under the microscope. Today I walked the aisles, sad to know that we’ve reached the end. For all its ingenuity, TJs just hasn’t evolved. Packaging on top of packaging. Goods shipped in from all over the globe. Processed foodstuffs that rival the Safeways and CalMarts of the world. We cannot turn a blind eye to your indiscretions anymore TJs. You’re kind of a whore.
It saddens me, because I know, TJs, you could be so much more. If you just turned your eye toward the sun you could pioneer a new way. It would be a major shift, but isn’t it worth the effort? Sigh. I suppose I’ll pop in now and again to see how you’re doing, out of nostalgia. You do have the best prices on Barbara’s cereals (which my son loves). Your frozen mac-n-cheese, while loaded with way too much non-foods, is really divine and worth as an infrequent treat (but I will not continue to serve it to my son twice weekly). Maybe I’ll come and stock up on chips and nitrate free hot dogs for parties now and then. If I can find parking, that is.
And….. if you decide to change your ways, you can always find me at the Farmer’s Market.