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Friday, May 18, 2007

West Hartford Needs a Super Stop & Shop (or Super Big Y)


If there's one thing that West Hartford lacks is a mega-sized grocery store that provides a consistent assortment of good quality products, and decent service at reasonable prices.


What West Hartford doesn't lack is quantity and variety of grocery stores: we have plenty of choices: Stop & Shop, Waldbaums, Shaw's, Wild Oats, Whole Foods, Crown Supermarket, and Hall's Supermarket. There are a few others in the nooks and crannies of West Hartford, but they tend to be mostly ethnic stores that carry specialty foods enjoyed by Russian, Slavic, and Middle Eastern members of the West Hartford Community.

I would trade the whole lot (except Whole Foods) for a one grand Super Stop & Shop, or Super Big Y like the one in neighboring Avon. Most of the grocery stores found in West Hartford are mini-versions of more successful, newer, mega-versions of each found in other communities.

If you're like I am, you quickly judge a grocery store by the first thing you see -- its produce. The second is the cleanliness of the store. And the third and forth are probably the prices and quality of meats. I have to admit that the best produce is generally found at Stop & Shop, and of all the stores that are general grocery stores in town; they tend to be the cleanest, but not by much. The meats are best of all of the general grocery stores except Hall's Market and Whole Foods - which I will get to at the end of this essay.

My big beef is that these miniature versions of grocery stores are often out of what you need, and sometimes you need to hit two of them during the week to complete your shopping. And since the stores are small, so are the sales. One week you might get a good price on chicken, but the rest of the products are no deal at all, if not overpriced. I think there is nothing more annoying to know that you can pull out the fliers on a Sunday morning and see that one store is offering good sales on some products and hosing the population on others. It's a damn conspiracy, I tell you! LOL.

The worst grocery store is in town is clearly Waldbaums. I was in on Friday, and its clear they are attempting to clean up their pathetic act by trying to restructure the store. But its long been recognized as a very dingy and dirty store - you can see the disgusting rust and wear on the floor if you go in during the restructure - its enough to make you walk out. Notwithstanding, the produce looks wilted, bruised, and overripe - like it just came out of a dirty warehouse, and the rest of the store is just plain dirty - everything from the shelves to the floors. I so much as told the manager that the store was a complete mess, one day just a few months ago. What could he say, he knew it was true. The only thing that keeps the place going is that it has a large Kosher selection and the Jewish population flocks there for that reason - I don't know how they feel about shopping in a dirty store, but that's their business, I suppose. I tend to go there when I need something quick. But I've left the store frustrated often by their lack of selection, and the ambivalent customer service you receive.

Shaw's isn't much better, and for some reason their prices just don't beat out the neighboring Hartford Super Stop & Shop. It doesn't make sense to shop at Shaw's if your one street away from the Hartford Stop & Shop where you can save about 20% on your shopping bill just for showing up. The only issue with the Hartford Stop & Shop is the uneasy feeling you get by seeing such a large police presence monitoring and watching everything. Grocery stores shouldn't need a police contingent, but that speaks to the problems they have and the nature of the immediate community. And please save sending me an email criticizing me about my view the cultural aspects of Hartford, the fact is - no grocery store in West Hartford has an arsenal of police like they require to protect grocery shoppers in Hartford.

I haven't said much about Hall's Market or Wild Oats and Whole Foods. Hall's is the small fry on the block but the meats are phenomenal - good grade and sell at very decent price. Sometimes I don't know how they can keep up with the demand. I go there when I want a really good steak for the grill. They have other sales too, but its a mom and pop shop that will require you to do the rest of your shopping elsewhere.
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With the establishment of Whole Foods I've found that there isn't much reason to shop at Wild Oats any longer. Before Whole Foods came into being, we shopped frequently at Wild Oats, but generally for co-op style food (i.e. bulk cereals, ingredients, etc), and for health foods that couldn't be found at regular grocery stores. We also used to grab dinner there once a week. So why choose Whole Foods over Wild Oats? It basically comes to down the fact that Whole Foods offers better variety and outstanding options for take out style meals for a growing family on the move. I also like the good service that I receive at Whole Foods, the meal/meat counter people know me by name and are very friendly and helpful.

It's my understanding that Whole Foods has purchased Wild Oats. And for those who reside in that section of town, I'm sure there are some concerns about what will happen to the franchise and the building. Will it suffer the fate of Adams? A store we frequented often and was probably the best option in most categories until they closed their doors a few years ago.

This is particularly interesting side story since Wild Oats was once Cheese-N-Stuff which was located on Farmington Avenue. The pull out of Cheese-N-Stuff was a controversial story since it gave life to that area of Farmington Avenue and despite protests by neighborhood residents begging to have Cheese-N-Stuff stay - they opted to move to out to another location to expand their revenue stream. And now just a few years later, after losing the battle to Whole Foods, could see their doors close forever.

To some... the failure of Wild Oats is justice served. I really don't have any opinion on it one way or another. But I can say that clearly Whole Foods won me over by their quality and fabulous assortment. As for price, I'd say that Whole Foods and Wild Oats are comparable. Only a madman, rich man, or a health food nut would shop there for everything and skip out on the regular grocery stores all together. God Bless you if you do all of your shopping at "Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck" as its often fondly referred.

Crown Supermarket is small, and I've shopped there on a few occasions. It's really a place that targets the Jewish population, but you won't find any good reason to shop there unless you are keen to overpaying for your groceries.

Again, the underlying point here is that the small Stop & Shop, Shaw's, and Waldbaums really don't cut it for the demands of a large community like West Hartford. Busy West Hartfordites are looking for one place where you can get in and get out, get everything you need, and not feel like you've been ripped off at the register. West Hartford desperately needs a Super Stop & Shop or Super Big Y - perhaps that's something that the folks in the Elmwood section should push for to bring back some life to that area of town.

1 comment:

Laura said...

You might try posting a review of your supermarkets on www.measuredup.com - it's a consumer website where people can share experiences about customer service at shops in their area. It's easy to do, and it feels kind of good to get the word out about what's good and what's not in your community.