Archive for January 26th, 2012

Babbling About a Setting

I’m aware that grocery stores must go out of business, but I’ve never seen one do so.  Now the Bloom near my house is closing down.  This is the Bloom that we anxiously waited for the first few months, that saved our sanity during a massive snow storm when we discovered it was in walking distance, even when roads were ice slicked and lined with snowplow berms.  It doesn’t surprise me that it failed.  For those not in the Bloom footprint, I heard it best described as a perfect 75% scale model of a real grocery store.  Too often I went there in a hurry, giving it a chance because it was the closest option, and not found what I wanted.  The day that I bought banana extract instead of butter (it’s an easy mistake, both words start with b, are about the same length, and include yellow things on their boxes) I discovered that the Bloom only carried vanilla and almond extract.  After a point I learned it would be faster, on average, to drive twice as far to Giant than being disappointed in the Bloom’s offerings.

Last night I went there to return a movie to the Redbox, and Bloom nearly failed me again.  It never occurred to me that a Redbox might be full, but this one was.  I needed to rent a new movie before it would let me return my old one.  The parking lot was just as full.  Even panicked pre-snowfall or last-minute Thanksgiving day shopping never filled that parking lot.  Really, the last time I saw it full was that first week when the Bloom was shiny and new, and shoppers hadn’t yet learned the disappointment of its stock.

I went in.  I’d fought for a parking space, might as well use it for a few moments longer.  Produced department shelves blocked the barren section off from customers.  I’m not sure exactly when the store got its last delivery of produce.  The closing announcement came two weeks ago, and the last day is still two weeks ahead.  The only fruit that remained were a few oranges and an odd dragon fruit, something I’d never seen stocked in the store before yesterday.  To the right, the deli stood with a similar lack of stock.  There was still an attendant there, ready to slice away fresh cold cuts, but the only two offerings were half of a massive turkey breast, and a ham.

The aisles were full of people, and more than that, carts.  These were serious shoppers, the same people who come to grocery stores with their coupons organized in massive three-ring binders, knowing just which store could get them an extra ten cents off their bag of chips, an extra quarter off their sodas, they’d be damned before they left a shopping cart only half full.  This led to aisles being impassable as customers refused to acknowledge their fellows in their fervor to get Oreos at going out of business prices.

The shelves were barren.  The top shelf on each aisle was long evacuated.  Product couldn’t fill the remaining shelves, so cereal boxes that would typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder now sat a half-inch apart, exposing the black shelves and backs, standing in sharp relief from the bright product packaging.  And still people pushed and maneuvered, picking the shelves emptier and emptier.  I don’t know how much stock remains in the back room, but I can’t imagine the store can keep this pace for long, especially as it’s only select locations completely shuttering, the rest will become Food Lions.  The store ran with that it had, eating itself alive, emptying its back rooms of non-perishables for one last orgy of consumerism.

Perhaps if the store had always done this sort of business, it wouldn’t have died.  But that would require being something else than a mimicry of a grocery store.  Especially existing less than a mile from a Giant, Safeway, and Harris Teeter.  Two miles from an H-Mart and a Shoppers.  Something had to give, and it should be no surprise it was the store with the least impressive stock.  I don’t know what could move in there.  The space has demonstrated that it can’t support a typical grocery store.  Perhaps a more specialized store, perhaps something more like a bodega, or perhaps a drug store.  It would even be a fine place for an independent hardware store, if such a thing was still economically feasible inside the DC Beltway.

I may take one more trip, just to see how far things get, just to look at the bones of a decaying grocery.  If nothing else, I found the scenery fascinating.  There was a frantic energy to both the customers and the staff that I’ve never seen before.  Perhaps I hit the height of the chaos, perhaps there’s still more to come.

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