I love going to the grocery store, I always have.
I don’t particularly like paying for groceries, but I like every other part of the experience.
It all started when I was a child and I would go to Bernicke’s grocery store in Napoleon, Ohio with my mom on Saturday mornings. At that time, I liked looking at the different food items, but mostly I liked looking at the comic books the store had on sale near the magazines. I can’t imagine why anyone would look at magazines when there were comic books nearby, but maybe they were just placed there to let adults look respectable if they were secretly looking at comic books while they pretended to look at magazines.
I spent a lot of time poring over the comics and my mom usually let me get one or two, since they were a good deal at that time. “Now only 35 cents!!!!” the covers of the comics often screamed to me. How could I pass that up? It was like throwing money away by not buying them!
In my mind, those trips to the store involved me getting all kinds of bread, comics and other items that I wanted, and it was a great time.
My mom may remember it a little differently, as her memories likely involve having to tell me no a lot and spending more money than she wanted to because I was along for the day, but I love thinking back on those times.
As a child, we also had the opportunity to get groceries at the small store in the village of Ridgeville Corners, which was great fun, and at the larger stores in the northwest Ohio city of Defiance.
When I was in high school, I got a job working at the Kroger in Defiance and my love of grocery stores grew even more.
I started off as “Nick The Friendly Bagger” and worked my way up to being “Nick the Produce Professional.”
I liked the people I worked with, I enjoyed getting to know the store and I liked learning more about how the store operated. I ate well, too, as we had the opportunity to devour lots of red grapes, cashews and other items while working. I don’t think the bosses knew we ate quite so much, but someone needed to test the items to make sure we were only selling the highest quality food items for our customers.
One of the best jobs was taking out the trash from the produce section. When you did this, you could take a lot of time, eat more loose grapes that were just being thrown out anyway, and enjoy smashing old watermelons and rotten fruit in the big dumpster. The smell of that dumpster wasn’t anything to write home (or in this column) about, but the rest of that job was great fun.
Also working at the store, we got to smash boxes, organize and stack cases of pop bottles that were being recycled, pull large pallets full of food around the store, talk to tons of customers, watch for pretty female customers (whom I was too scared to, so my only pickup line for years was “Paper or plastic?”) and do all kinds of fun things. I should point out that some parts of the job were hot, tiring, miserable and boring, and there were days when I didn’t want to be there, but my co-workers and I had a pretty good time.
After working at Kroger for several years, I gained nice appreciation of grocery stores, and still today I still find myself “facing” the shelves (bringing the items to the front of the shelf so they look nice), taking my carts back inside when I am done with them and watching the workers whenever I am shopping.
I end up at one of the grocery stores in my town once or twice a week, and I love it. I like picking out items for my family, looking for bargains and carefully studying items that I know I will never purchase.
I am also a talker, and I always find a few people to visit with at the store. We usually have a very nice chat, and then also have all of those awkward extra exchanges when we keep seeing each other over and over in the different rows while we shop.
Running into people you know at the store can cause a few problems, including that it always happens when you look terrible. I can go to the store after work on a day when I look reasonable, and I will only see one or two people I know. But if I have to run to the store at 3 in the morning for some strange reason and I am wearing an old Barry Manilow shirt, plaid shorts, old man socks and sandals, I will run into my bosses, the parents of my children’s friends, my doctor, Jennifer Aniston, LeBron James and newspaper photographers who are taking random photos for the next day’s paper.
Also if I see someone I know in the store, I tend to worry about what they think of my groceries. Do I have too much junk food in there? Do they wonder why I have a magazine aimed at teenage girls (it’s for my stepdaughter)? Are they checking to see how many vegetables I bought (the answer is none)? Did I pick out too many name brand items? Did I pick out too many generic items? Do they like the way I organized the items in my cart? Doesn’t everyone organize the items in their carts?
I also like chatting with the employees in the check lanes and seeing how fast they can scan all of the items. It’s also fun when I have the opportunity to help bag my own groceries and see if I still have it. I’ll admit that I often silently critique the way that today’s generation of baggers do their work.
“I would have put that box of Nutty Bars on one side, the box of Zebra Cakes on the other side and the jars of peanut butter, chocolate spread and honey in between them to help the bag stand up straight. I wonder if I should tell the bagger this now? Better yet, I need to remember this bag so I can eat a Nutty Bar in the car on the way home,” I might think to myself.
Also, when I visit other cities, I look forward to seeing the grocery stores there. What type of carts do they use? Where do the put their produce section? What type of other items do they sell? Where can I buy more Nutty Bars?
Grocery stores often are a reflection of a community, as you can see the types of items that are sold there, you can watch the people who live in the neighborhood and you can learn a lot about the places you are visiting.
Best of all, if you are a little bored on your trip and you go to a nice store, hopefully you can look around for a while and find the comic book rack. And if you’re lucky enough to somehow see my mom in that store, I bet she’ll buy you one or two comic books, just don’t ask for too much candy.