Someone Out There: Food for thought

In this column, a consumer reflects upon experiences in the marketplace.I got a great Christmas present this year. It actually started with a seemingly negative event - my neighborhood Food City supermarket closed.I was distressed.'Why close a perfectly good grocery store?'...

In this column, a consumer reflects upon experiences in the marketplace.

I got a great Christmas present this year. It actually started with a seemingly negative event – my neighborhood Food City supermarket closed.

I was distressed.

‘Why close a perfectly good grocery store?’ I asked myself.

It’s bright and clean, stocks just about everything the average mainstream person would want – plus rabbit meat – and even occasionally puts prices on things.

Actually, though, I had been worrying that it would close because it never seemed very crowded.

Anyway, to my relief, the plan seemed to be to revamp and reopen. And, sure enough, just before Christmas, the new store was unveiled: a Price Chopper.

Now, I was predisposed to dislike it because I had heard a rumor that the company which owns Food City and Price Chopper changes from one to the other to get rid of higher-paid unionized staff.

Be that as it may, I’m afraid when I walked into the grocery-shopping-aficionado wonderland that is Price Chopper, my sympathy for the workers was drowned in a sea of purely selfish delight.

Pristine produce as far as the eye could see. Everything from the mundanity of carrots and celery to mysterious ethnic root vegetables and yuppy radicchio exotica were lined up with military precision and artistic eye appeal.

Produce was followed by no-name packaged nuts and baking items at unbelievable prices. These then flowed into a meat department that featured everything from great slabs of salted fish to prepackaged frozen goat meat.

The dairy department led into a deli handing out pieces of Havarti cheese (which was on special and which I bought for the first time in years) and a bakery with the best French bread I’ve tasted in ages.

The biggest treat came when I nabbed my favorite kind of ice cream (available when I visit my aunt in Amherstburg, Ont. for $2.99 and only previously seen here in Toronto for $5.99) for $3.69. I never buy ice cream unless I have a sore throat, but who could resist?

In addition to the usual Chinese food section, there were also sections of Indian (both East and West) foods, and all sorts of intriguing ethnic tinned things.

I was only able to get a cursory overview of the store on that first trip because of the opening-day hordes, but the things that made the most impact were: great presentation, great selection, really great prices, and the warm feeling that this branch of a huge, shiny new chain store actually reflected the different cultures of its inner-city melting pot customers.

But, perhaps the biggest treat that day was attitude.

Those of you who have read my previous columns know that my experiences with customer service have left me with absolutely no expectations of decent treatment whatsoever.

To me, good customer service these days means not having the sales clerk actually spit on you when you walk into the store.

So, imagine my surprise to see – on the first day of operation and under tryingly crowded conditions – a polite, nay, friendly, team of employees in orange Price Chopper sweat shirts, interrupting their own activities to answer customers’ questions and give directions.

The lineups to the checkouts may have been stretched halfway down each aisle, but the store manager was keeping everyone upbeat, making his way from line to line chatting and joking with the patrons.

And the staff’s cheeriness was rubbing off on the customers.

Even when I was near the back of the line facing at least a 20-minute wait, I heard someone behind me humming a Christmas carol.