Extreme Makeover: Grocery Addition

As published in The Rye Record on October 11, 2013

Remember how you felt that time you went to the office Christmas party and met the attractive young woman that just started working with your husband? And remember how you noticed for the first time that your cocktail dress, circa 1998, was somehow too long, too short, and too snug all at once? The very next day you barreled in to the plastic surgeon’s office and demanded “the works.” We’ve all been there. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Stop and Shop in Port Chester feels now that the new Whole Foods is opening up right down the street.

You can feel the panic the instant you walk in there. Stop and Shop is in the midst of the fight of its life, and it’s opted for an extreme makeover. With the facelift nearly complete, I have to admit I kind of miss the old version. The pre-op store did a pretty good business selling grocery staples and good-enough produce. It was just the basics, everything you needed. No surprises. I knew where everything was and knew my way around without really even paying attention. It’s possible that I’ve heard my husband describe me in the exact same way.

You can’t blame Stop and Shop for panicking. How are they supposed to sell people a package of Perdue chicken when a mile away you can get chicken that is certified to have been humanely raised? Once I have options, I’ll probably never eat tortured chickens again. I’m starting to wonder if the energy of that poor chicken, blindfolded and marched to his death, has been keeping me down. Poor Stop and Shop. It’s hard to compete with happy chickens and the promise of a better life.

For now, I’m still loyal to my saggy old market, even as it squeezes itself into a younger woman’s jeans. I nod cheerfully at the new cheese section, which houses the exact same cheeses as before, but is arranged vertically rather than horizontally. I overlook the fact that the lettuces are now senselessly located in three separate spots. I want to make this work.

And I’m not alone. The newly revamped store is packed with dazed but loyal customers, pushing empty carts through the now slightly wider but completely mixed up aisles. The nip and tuck has resulted in something unnatural, and the new (dis)order is baffling. We mumble as we try to reorient ourselves: “Why is there bleach here next to the corn chips?” “Where’d the bread go?”

Well, if you really want to know, I’ll tell you where the bread went. While the bread used to be in the center of the market, a location suitable for the staff of life, it is now pushed to the left-hand corner. It’s a corner that feels like a shameful place, where one might keep any other dark, dirty secret. For emphasis, someone seems to have shot out the lights in the bread area, making gluten fiends feel like they’re in the midst of a back alley transaction as they snatch their Wonder Bread and scurry away.

On the opposite side of the store is a brightly lit oasis. It includes two aisles labeled “Natural Foods” which beg the question: what kind of food is in the rest of the store? (This is sort of like when you get your eyes done and then you’re suddenly aware that your neck looks like a turkey’s waddle.) In these natural aisles you can feel like you’re actually in Whole Foods, surrounded by organic almond butter, chia seeds, and six kinds of farro. This area abuts the new natural meat section where you can buy organic chicken, though the butcher makes no claims about anyone’s emotional state.

By the time the scars heal on this nip/tuck, we’ll be used to the new Stop and Shop. We’ll start to appreciate the effort they’ve made and will forgive them for the confusion. But Stop & Shop don’t fret — we’re never going to leave you. Don’t ever underestimate our dependence on routine. And, as alluring as pampered chickens can seem, we still need a place to buy Bisquick, Skippy, and Eggos. You can’t get that stuff at Whole Foods.