Grocery Stores: The Antitheses of Community?

I found myself at Fall-Mart on Saturday morning, standing in line at the cash register because only three lanes were open. That there would be a line on a Saturday morning I should have expected, and I shouldn’t have been so grumpy about it. I called J and left him a voicemail to say in my best frustrated voice, “Now I understand why Broger advertises We get you in and out in a hurry. Remind me of this next time I say I’m going to Fall-Mart. GRRR.” Then I hung up.

You see, when I go to the grocery store, I prefer self-checkout. And Broger lets you do self-checkout for full carts of groceries. They have a special line just for people like me! Additionally, I try to go the store at off times, especially avoiding Wednesdays, senior citizen discount day. I don’t like waiting my turn to squeeze my cart down the aisle. I know this makes me sound bratty, but it’s true.

This morning on the news, I heard a story about a South Korean grocery store without any groceries on the shelves. Instead of actual products, the store has photos of the products. Customers scan the products they want with their smart phones, and then the items get sent directly to their door steps. And when you run out of something at home, you can scan its barcode on your phone, and a refill gets sent to you. I’m not kidding. (By the way, some grocery chains are even removing the store itself from this model, allowing customers to order the groceries during their commute on the subway.)

So we’ve got two extremes here that are replacing the old-school, hands-on grocery store model. On the one hand, many Americans like me are doing all the work of shopping ourselves. I’m taking in my own bags, grabbing my own stuff, saying “no thanks” when asked if I need help, checking the items off my list, heading to the self-checkout, ringing up each of my own 83 items, bagging it myself, paying for it all, loading my cart, and then transferring my too-full bags into my trunk, which is tricky, by the way, because the hydraulic on our hatchback no longer works.

On the other hand, some customers can now make other people do all the work for them. Pick out their groceries, item-by-item, check them off the list, load them up in a truck, deliver them to the customers’ doorsteps.

In both cases, we as consumers get to avoid other people! Pretty great, right? Barely any face-to-face contact and we get exactly what we want, when we want it, where we want it.

Really, what could be better than this?

Well, for one thing, community.

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4 comments on “Grocery Stores: The Antitheses of Community?

  1. Patti Miller says:

    I will happily pass on community at the grocery store. I will happily pass on even going to the grocery store. Ever. Community waits for me in many other forms. Thank heaven!

    • elizabeth says:

      I know what you mean. My mom loves going to the grocery store, and I certainly did not inherit that gene.

      I will admit, however, that there are times when my heart is strangely warmed because I run into people I know when I head to the grocery store. Once I was asked what I like best about our church and my answer was that I always run into people from church at the grocery store. (What I really meant, of course, was that I like living in a small town, but still…)

  2. Darla says:

    Time is a factor for me in finding community in the grocery store. When I am crunched for time I am focused only on getting what I need and getting out of there. Not very enjoyable. When I have plenty of time, I like to try and make eye contact with and say hello to people I pass in the aisles or am standing beside at the deli, meat, etc counters. I have had some very interesting conversations with people I wouldn’t otherwise interact with. Several weeks ago, a woman I struck up a conversation with at the cheese counter told me about a man in town who sells the most wonderful tomatoes out of his home. Most people return the “hello” and smile; a few don’t. Makes me wonder what is going on in their lives. I, too, enjoy running into people I know and visiting, but there is something really special about having a conversation with someone I don’t know at all. A warm and hopeful feeling. Today I was at a “windows and doors” place in Lexington and had a very nice conversation about the Pavilion and Georgetown with a clerk. As I left, she said, “Nice to meet you, Darla”. The community broadens!

    • elizabeth says:

      Darla, I love these glimpses of stories you’ve shared–thanks for commenting! Time is certainly a factor for me, too. Recently, my friend and I drove to Jo-Ann Fabrics, and we had to wait for a while before our materials could be cut. And then I had so many items to cut, it took a long time for that, too. But because we weren’t in a hurry, and we weren’t grumbling, and we had a cute one year old with us, we got to appreciate the quirkiness of the clerks. The older man used to work at Hobby Lobby and was still learning how use the computers at Jo-Ann’s. The younger woman helping me has a memory that enables her to remember everything she’s cut in a particular customer’s, without writing it down. These are the things you miss when you’re in a hurry! And they’re also things that can remind us that everyone we meet has a story!

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