Grocery Store Blues

My neighborhood grocery store closed after decades of serving the community in which I grew up and currently live.  I’m struggling to balance the hurt of seeing photos online of empty shelves with pleasant memories that keep flooding back in my visual recall.

Not satisfied with the word of mouth and articles of announcement that the closing had taken place, I wandered by the site of what remains of my shopping mecca.  As the brown paper lined windows gazed back providing only my reflection in the late afternoon sun, I sincerely felt mocked by the lone shopping cart that had been left outside perched on a median strip of grass.

I realize you may see this as a store but I share here some memories, as they make me smile a bit although I am truly sad about it all.

It was, for many decades, the only expanded grocery store within walking distance to my home so when we have good weather and I only need a few items, it is a great exercise destination that allows enough time to clear my mind or take a break from work.  I often saw someone I know on the way to and from and grabbed a quick chat along the way.  And then there were those I saw while strolling the aisles inside.

Some of the Orioles ball players live in a condo building nearby.  I once spied a storied starting pitcher tossing Raisin Bran into his shopping cart and another chatting on his phone as he chose a particular brand of mustard.  I chatted with a player once by the cold produce section.  I said hello and mentioned that I had attended the game the night before.  He was so kind to stop and analyze the game with me.  We finished our conversation and as he walked away, we both said “see ya.” Like old friends. 

Speaking of friends.  I knew all the people who worked there.  They were either from my generation of locally grown South Baltimoreans or from my niece’s generation, also grown locally.  Recently, one of my niece’s friends retired after working there 25 years.  We did more than shop there.  We commiserated as a community there.  Not an aisle in the store hasn’t held a conversation of local interest from the little league parade start time to the street closings planned for the Kinetic Sculpture Race.  From the location for 4th of July fireworks (the Fort or the Harbor) to a new restaurant opening. It was in this store that some of us heard of the birth of a friend’s child or the passing of someone’s parent.  This wasn’t just a grocery store.  It was our “Cheers” and while everyone may not have known your name, they nodded a greeting with a smile whenever they saw you.  No one passed by you in the aisles without smiling. Because they either knew you or would be standing near you at the next parade.

A personal story or two (or three).  This was the only store that carried a particular brand of Kielbasa.  A delicacy made on the East Side of town that my mother insisted be on her Thanksgiving table every year.  Mom is long gone now but her kids continue the Thanksgiving Day tradition.  Every year I coordinate with the meat department at the store to determine the best time to come by to get the freshest delivery for my Thanksgiving table. I’ll have to make the trip to the East side of town this year because it must be that particular brand to continue Mom’s tradition. 

The bakery staff made the best baked goods in town, in my opinion.  Birthday cakes, party cupcakes, a breakfast donut, they had it down. And we celebrated many an occasion at our home with the delicacies made and purchased there. I’ll miss those butter cream confections.

This is also where I learned the fine art of helping my toddler into the seat of a shopping cart.  No small feat I assure you.  But he and I worked as a team and before I knew it time flew. Soon he was pushing the cart beside me and then running errands for me, moving through the aisles himself to pick up something we needed for dinner.

Someone I follow on Twitter posted a photo of the empty shelves in the store.  The same shelves where I talked baseball with the Orioles player.  It was kind of heart breaking.  To give you an idea, it wasn’t like the empty shelves when the pandemic hit and you would see one box of tissue on an otherwise empty shelf.  This was like the person who took the photo was let into the store after it was emptied out completely.  There was nothing there but empty shelves.

After seeing that, my first thought went to the workers.  Where will they work now?  This job was their livelihood.  I worry about them all.  My second thought is about the family tradition of my mother’s Kielbasa.  But I can get that with a drive around the harbor.  I’ll be fine.  I have my memories. 

I didn’t get a chance to stop by before they closed so to all those who worked there, thanks for baking the tastiest treats in any bakery department I’ve tried.  Thanks for offering hot and cold food every day.  And thanks for thin slicing my yellow American cheese so as to achieve the perfect bite on every sandwich (or eaten alone).  One final note to the staff at the store:  Thanks for being there on holidays when everyone else was home preparing meals. Having you there, at your job, to supply that forgotten item overlooked in our visit to the store the day before the holiday, is very much appreciated.  You never let us down.

I will miss you all.  Thanks for the memories.

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