Saturday, February 22, 2014

Where is the Love?

We had one up-scale grocery store in our little rural county in Northwestern Washington.  It was a family-owned business.  For discretionary purposes, let's call it Merlin's Market.

Everything cost more than at the local Safeway or Super Wally World, but we loyal customers felt the premium we paid was worth it.  The produce was the best within miles.  One of the young produce guys could pick out ripe melons like a magician.

Their freshly baked products were outstanding, especially their hamburger buns, which were made with the same sweetened dough they used for their dinner rolls.  Even the grand kids said they were the best burgers they've ever had.  Some of us love sweet things in any form.

And the meat department.  Oui!  The butcher is a very cool woman who can select and cut a prime rib roast with the precision of a brain surgeon.  It not only exceeds my expectations in sheer beauty, but also when roasted as instructed by her, it is a meal fit for a queen.  Why would anyone buy their meat anywhere else?

The rest of the store staff were outstanding as well:  friendly, courteous, knew where everything was, and talking to the wine steward was an education in itself.  A true Sommelier.
Then ... one bleak winter day I noticed that the store sign was a bit different.  Instead of Merlin's Market, it had been changed to Merlin's Mediocre Market.
The tall good-looking manager, who was a member of the Merlin family, was gone; replaced by a man who spent time on the roof of the store and looked more like a longshoreman who was lost.
And one by one, my favorite employees began to disappear.  Transferred to a different store; wanted to live in another county.  These were the stories we were told about their absence.  The best one was, "She asked to be re-assigned," they said about the excellent wine steward who was now working as a checkout person.  What a "challenge" for someone of her caliber.  I bet she could do the job and make up funny scenarios in her mind at the same time.
And the quality of the produce plummeted.  Now the "fresh" stalks of the organic cilantro and parsley I buy for my bunnies were downright flaccid.
Click on Read More if you want the rest of the story.

The store replaced their Merlin's brand with the Food Club brand.  I had not seen Food Club stuff since I left the Phoenix area where senior citizens on fixed incomes were willing to compromise flavor for savings.  I would not even buy Food Club products to donate to the needy.
The clincher in this new shopping experience is the tall arrogant ... who thinks he's hot-stuff ... guy who is apparently a distributor of alcoholic products.  A spiritual distributor of sorts.  Perhaps he believes he has special powers because of his connection with the spiritual realm.
I began to notice him when the old wine steward was replaced by a new younger model.  I thought they were a pair of lovers the way she swooned when he leaned down to whisper in her ear.  Then, she went into the back office to look up a special kind of Prosecco for me and he followed her.  It said "employees only" but I guess Spirit Man had privileges.  They took so long back there that I finished my shopping, paid my bill, and left the store before they emerged.
I stopped shopping there.  I mean ... why pay more for less ... except for the exceptional butcher and her prime rib?  But I had to go there the other day for the sake of expediency.  I was after Frangelico for a friend.  That's the hazelnut liqueur that looks so much like a little monk that you find yourself whispering "Hail Marys" under your breath.
The "new" wine steward was not there.  In fact no wine steward was there.  But instead ... there was Romeo with a new lady all dressed up and reeking of some kind of perfume.  I even asked her, "What is that fragrance you're wearing?"
She was delighted to tell me it was "Versace Something-or-Other."  Very pricey stuff no doubt.
Turns out they were partners who were there "working together."  How terribly efficient to send two distributors to the same store at the same time.
There wasn't even any Frangelico, so I had to leave empty handed.
They've moved everything around in the store, so it took me two hours to find the items I needed.  I cris-crossed the store so many times that I was exhausted.
All the other customers and even the employees were complaining that no one knew where anything was, and the manager was not even there.  One employee told me she went on vacation and when she came back, she had a different job.  What a way to run a business ... into the ground.
Tom Peters author of "In Search of Excellence" would have cringed had he been watching the rapid decline of this place from a first-class specialty store to an over-priced, poorly run frustrating experience for the declining population of shoppers.
The corporate executives reside in a larger town not too far from here.  I wonder why they don't pop in once in a while and see the utter decimation of a highly regarded Market, and the besmirching of the Family name.
It is a sad example of the race to cheaper and cheaper products by cutting the quality of goods and services as well as lowering the requirements to be considered hire able.  If you can fog a mirror, apparently you're hired.
And you don't have to work many hours, because Merlin's now makes their customers line up and wait to check out, hoping to get the attention of somebody.  Anybody.
I recognize four faces from the past.  When they are gone, I will be, too.  Already Fred Meyer has better quality produce, deli products, a cool manager, and carries name brand goods ... nary a Food Club product on the premises.
And my local Safeway has the sweetest Seafood Manger (young enough to be my grandson), a great staff of experienced, capable and caring employees who do such nice (extra special) things for me.
It also has a funny, everywhere-at-once Store Manager, whose only flaw is the belief that his chicken wings recipe is better than mine.  So ... life goes on ... and all is not lost.
But some of us with high standards can still lament these continual changes imposed on us -- The Customers -- the ones who pay their salaries and keep them in business.
"Anything we can get away with to save a buck" seems to be the new motto in so many retail places these days.
We've even been invaded by some Craft Store owned by the family who refuses to provide medical insurance coverage for birth control for women employees.  I won't go near the place, but can only presume it is staffed by men only.
But ... my greatest disappointment is Merlin's.  So to echo the great Roberta Flack:
Where is the love
You said was mine all mine
Till the end of time?
Was it just a lie?
Where is the love?


1 comment:

  1. This seems to be a problem in many places. We had a family-owned grocery store chain whose stores were my favorites. As the older founding generation died off, apparently the younger folk lost interest in maintaining the business or felt there was more money to be had in selling it off or whatever they did with it. Now the one closest to us has been closed for many years, replaced by another local store, but who, interestingly had Food Club brand items. Unfortunately, it is just not the same as the original grocery store that was there for so long. More business, less love. Yep.