Traveling with three kids, I have a need for grocery stores in various towns. Milk, PB&J, juice boxes, snack crackers, diapers or booze, grocery shopping is a regular event in my life, home or away. In my travels, I have noticed interesting differences in the stores. Now, I'm not talking about Super Centers. Those are pretty cookie cutter no matter where you go. I'm talking about actual grocery stores. I guess I shouldn't say "in my travels" because I moved across the state for college and discovered Smitty's (though I usually still shopped at Brookshire's which I had been used to growing up) then NWA and discovered Harp's. I consider Harp's my base comparision, though, because it where I have done most of my "adult" shopping and I have been using it for almost 9 years now. GREAT CHEESE BISCUITS, TIME FLIES!
Now, let me explain a little. Groceries stores tell the story of a community. This my sound a little profound or philosophical (or just plain screwy) but go with me here...
Think about it... when you walk in, are you lead to the right or the left? Are you met by non-grocery type things like pool toys, t-shirts or flowers or do you walk in to the deli or bakery? Maybe you make a sharp right straight into the produce; that is what most people in the community buy when entering that store. Walk into the processed foods, you better believe carts are filled with them. Is there a natural food section or isle? Do they offer ethnic foods? If so, how large is the selection? Can you purchase food in bulk? Do have an in-store butcher, fish monger or baker that actually knows how to work the oven and piping bag? How are the prices? You can tell a lot about cost of living by the price of milk (or soy milk if you're me). Let me give you some examples of my favorites.
In KC, my favorite is the Hy-Vee. I think you can find them throughout western Missouri, probably into Kansas and I saw a truck headed north into Iowa. I was introduced to this wonderful store by my brother-in-law Stephen while he was there for work (in KC, not Hy-Vee). I was so excited by this expansive store that I wanted to pee myself the first time I walked in. It was like a REAL STORE, like the ones you see on the Food Network... ARE YOU SERIOUS? I mean REALLY! I was beyond excited. They had a salad bar right as you walk in the front in that first store and several others I have visited. You can also get a variety of pre-made (as in they have people cooking it there) foods at there deli. Now, a lot of grocery stores offer fried chicken, a few deli sandwiches and such but they had homemade Chinese food, Sushi and I believe BBQ and pizza's. There meat counter had real butchers cutting large roasts down for customers and fish monger whom knew what he was talking about. A very large natural foods section in all the stores I visited boasted specialty teas and kid approved snacks. The prices were a little higher than I was used to paying but the quality seemed very worth it. They also have a very extensive spirits collection including an amazing blueberry wine that I found no where else.
In Chicago, I enjoy a few specialty stores likes Trader Joe's. If you are going to be small, be REALLY good at what you do and they are! Trader Joe's doesn't offer a huge variety of of things; you wouldn't be able to do all of your shopping there. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds are AMAZING! I love their pasta sauce, pineapple salsa, FiberFull bars, Pita Chips, Whole Bean Coffee, Indian Fare, dried pasta and various other wonderful items. They also sell Santa Barbara Wine which is WONDERFUL and Two Brother's Beer, GREAT! Dominic's is a wonderful everything store. They carry their own brand of Light Vanilla Soy Milk which rather good. They also carry a brand of baby food called Organic Baby that was only $6.95 for 10 jars and had flavors like Vegetables with Lentils and Pear's with Raspberries. Murphy was SO EXCITED and so was I. I walked into an expansive produce section with apples that actually didn't even look waxed. The down side of Dominic's is that they have those obnoxious member's cards where you "extra" savings. The bad thing is that when you are just visiting those stores, you pay a little extra and the guy at the check out was a little pushy about it.
Yes, my obsession with grocery stores is a little nuts-o but its my life. The next time you walk into a grocery store, home or away, I bet you will look around and take note of what you see. If you are ever in NWA, KC or Chicago, feel free to check out some of the stores I mentioned and let me know what you think.