I remember reading “A&P,” the Updike short story about teenage sexuality and consumer society in a high school literature class. In typical Updike fashion, the lead character in a fit of lustful attraction takes up the cause of dignity for those oblivious to his presence. In the process he resigns his job and walks away from being a cog in the wheel of corporate America. When I read it I found myself uninterested in its themes, however. I spent my childhood as an army brat and away from the brands of America. For a brief time my family did live in New Jersey and did their shopping at the A&P in Eatontown. Oblivious to it being a large national chain that was mundane to most, A&P came to represent the country I loved though often absent from. Rather than being a corporate entity; A&P was a primitive nostalgia.
In time I lost my interest in A&P. Buying snacks for the church youth group, hanging out with giggling girls and buddies, and purchasing the eggs and tp necessary for hijinks happened at a place called Kroger. I was older and knew Kroger to be a huge corporate chain, but that made little difference to me. For me Kroger was Marion Ohio and represents a nostalgia that is more than primitive.
I took a break from national chains after Kroger. I moved to Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood to pursue graduate work. Hyde Park is a place unto itself and had no use for national chains. The academics and students of the neighborhood bought shares and became co-owners of the local grocery called the Hyde Park Co-Op. Fine and well, but that is not typical to most and shopping there did not remain typical for me as I moved to the city’s north side and started shopping at Dominick’s.
Dominick’s is a chain….a local one at the time I moved north, but still a chain. When purchased by Safeway, it became part of a larger entity still and more generic and bland in the process. I did not care. After all my local Dominick’s had its stories. I bought Halloween candy here for the neighborhood kids and when I became an instructor for those with developmental disabilities, this is where I took my clients to teach them about community businesses and money management. When it was acquired by Safeway, my Dominick’s briefly closed and reopened with a dining area called the Signature Café. Here co-workers from Misericordia would take their lunches sharing deli sandwiches and sushi. As workplaces can be incestuous and mine perhaps more than most, this also became the place that gave many the fodder for gossip and the phrase “lunching together.”
The grocery store you love is gone or soon will be. At least the grocery store I love, will be. Safeway is exiting the Chicago market and shuttering its 72 stores. Jewell has acquired four of those already and as my Dominick’s is new construction, I suspect there will be a buyer for that one, perhaps Mariano’s, a chain out of Milwaukee that has it all over Safeway when it comes to attractive and functional stores. If that were the case, I could live with it; there is nothing wrong with a vibrant business giving employment and services to the neighborhood. Still it will not be the same, even if the services and the products improve, for whatever moves in there will be missing the stories….unless of course A&P or Kroger wants the space.