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Friday, August 5, 2011

Super-Duper Markets (Aug. 5, 2011)

"They’re doing WHAT to the old Safeway?”I screeched. Dad hadn’t realized that this would upset me. “They’re renovating it, giving it a facelift,” he’d said a moment before. He was referring to a store near where I grew up. Although it wasn’t the one we frequented the most, I still feel some nostalgia and regret that its original look is being altered Even though I don’t live there anymore, it still bugs me. No one asked me if they could change things from my childhood! It’s a smaller store, especially as compared with the giant stores that are the standard now. It had the familiar Safeway front and gull wing roofline, the glass frontage and lava rock. This was called the “Marina Style,” named for the prototype store on Marina Boulevard in San Francisco. In the mid-1960s Safeways took on this new look, and being that I’m a child of the 1970s, the original look was still in place when my young brain was studying the world. This is very similar to what they looked like:

There must be people out there who don’t care to join in our chit-chat about supermarkets and their symbolism. They would rather pluck their eyelashes one by one than ponder this subject. That’s ok. But if you think about it, food is one of the things that every living creature needs, so if there is one subject that unites us, it could be this one.

For many of us, a trip to the supermarket may be among our earliest memories, if not for its glamour but due to the frequency of our visits. I recall going to two Safeways as a very tiny child in the late 70s, when Safeways still boasted their original 1960s style. I may have been only three or four. Was it the height of the building that made an impression on me? The interior ceiling was so tall. Was it the promise that we’d bring yummy things home? Was it the fun of being lifted into the child-seat of the shopping cart? I still remember the narrow aisles, stocked high with dozens of varieties of whatever you needed. I recall the formica on the check-out stands. I remember the circular, rotating area where you’d load your groceries (it carried your groceries around the circle to the cashier). This predated the one-way black conveyer belt. Another Safeway I remember is now a drugstore, but I recall walking through it, looking up at huge tables of apples (there seemed to be thousands of them atop a metal stand shaped like a pool table, the stand tapering down to a smaller footprint at the base). Why is this so significant to me? Does it connect to some basic urge amongst women to gather? Were my gathering instincts being shaped even at age four?

These days what I appreciate at the super market is completely different than what I liked as a child. Now a harried mom, I’m glad to be in any building that feels different from my house and all its unfinished chores! Here is an informal checklist of how supermarkets are different from my house:

Supermarket floors are spotless. Mine are spotted. At supermarkets there are no milk spills, dirty socks, disgarded clothing items, thrown raisins, dust bunnies, capless markers, or unidentified substances on their floors. (If something is spilled at the store, it’s not left for me to discover and clean up! At least three employees swoop out of nowhere and are on it before the last drop hits the linoleum. Amazing!)

Supermarkets shelves are nicely organized. Mine are a jumble of whatever can fit and (hopefully) not fall down.

Supermarkets play upbeat music. The sounds echoing in my house are “Gimme that! It’s mine! I hate you! (Followed by sounds of kids hitting each other and often, crying.)

For some, going to the store is a chore. For me, it’s almost a vacation!

The original look of those Safeways just brings me back to the innocent wonder I had as a four-year-old. My own four-year-old likes to go to the store. She’s picked up on the idea that supermarkets are a place filled with solutions. She’s vaguely aware of money, but still has that innocence one should have at four. Out of milk? She has the answer: “Let’s go to the store!” It’s a shiny place of bounty. People greet you, pack up your stuff, wish you a good day. And since she’s not paying the credit card balance (!), it’s a completely good experience for her.

Recently I stumbled upon a smaller store I’d forgotten about, as I no longer live in that neighborhood. It’s an IGA, formerly a Safeway, and despite a change in ownership you can see its original design features:

I’ll be back with another ode to supermarkets of old on another day. There are Piggly Wigglys to discuss, after all. For now I’ll leave you with sparkling visions of Safeways dancing in your heads.

Now where’s my shopping list?


  1. Just in the last day or two, I happened onto a Facebook group page that's called "You know you're from Clairemont if..."

    All sorts of funky recollections of where the old stores were, who worked there, who drank their booze outside this shop or that school. Quite a hoot for those of us who got launched in the area. A lot of clues about the place before my time. I put a bunch of things in there too. The page just started two days ago and is already up to 3300 posts! Coming in so fast the page keeps refreshing and losing my place. Insane.

    Alpha Beta set the supermarket pace for me. Right in Diane center where the indoor marketplace is. Dem's the days...

  2. You didn't tell me you were in my hood for that pic. Or what?