Thursday, October 19, 2006

Groc & Conf'd

Alison Dyer harkens back to the era of the tiny corner store.

The corner store doesn’t carry things in ones and twos anymore.

It was just the other day, or so it seemed, I made a trip up to my local groc and conf for a couple of smokes – individual, buy-them-one-at-a-time cigarettes you need to get through the day, or to help you cut down. Another family store I remember sold individual band-aids. Aspirin and eggs too, I bet. That one smelled of damp pets and mouldy ceiling tiles on dreary spring days. There was no muzak blaring, just the cadence of Missus behind the counter bantering about the weather or politics with you or Gerry from down the street. There were never more than two customers in the place, unless school was out and the door would set the little bell jangling as long-limbed, droopy-jeaned teenagers stormed in for a quick fat-sugar-salt fix. And time wasn’t wasted looking over a score or a hundred choices of pea soup or chocolate bars. Two, three brands max if you were lucky. And don’t bother checking the expiry date

Now: big box stores. What a concept. What a load. They should offer Airmiles just for visiting, considering all the trudging up and down the aisles and back again because of something missed.

The aisles are so long and high I’m surprised they haven’t called them avenues: Avenue du Pain. Promenade de Poisson. Surprised they haven’t got traffic lights at the major intersections.

Think of all the sale bin items they could have at a red light for pedestrian-shoppers!

Then there’s the muzak. To blank out the whirl of refrigerators, air conditioners and other mechanical grumblings, there’s the mind-numbing muzak. To put me in a happy ‘shopping’ mood.

“I have always imagined a crash in which the only survivor would be the Muzak,” wrote composer Murray Schafer.

What do I know about marketing, but Big Box stores have gone for the kitchen sink, forget about niche. I mean there you are, innocently cruising aisle number 8 with the pasta and cereal and boom! You’re into bath bombs and kitchen gizmos. Turn the corner and you’re looking at colour-coordinated things that would make Debbie Travis turn an unflattering shade of cerise.

And now they’re adding other ‘services’ to mimic different stores – a florist, a photo shop, a dry cleaners, a liquor store, a kitchenware boutique. They’re like a big box mall.

And parking lots! I tell you, you’d better have a damn good memory, like where you parked your car with five thousand SUVs lined up like a backgammon game. The parking lot is like a landing strip, and is devoid of anything idiosyncratic (unless you count how they prune the pathetic seedlings trying to survive on the property fringes).

I’m just lamenting the loss of the ma and pa groc and confs.

I know they’ll soon all be gone, and worse still, revitalized as part of a living museum. But tell me, what’s wrong with wanting just one or two of something?

Alison Dyer is a St. John’s-based writer whose local groc and conf, [that's grocery & confectionary] at the base of Signal Hill, has a ‘for sale’ sign on it.
(Published in The Scope, St. John's alternative newseekly, October12, 2006
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