I guess those shoppers were ahead of their time.
My mother stumbled across some yellowing editions of our local newspaper from 1976 and 1977. One issue featured a front-page story about an elderly man who walked to a neighborhood grocery store every day with his faithful dog, just to hang out all day. (The dog kept up the routine even when his master took ill and was temporarily placed in a nursing home.)
Flash forward to 2018. According to the Wall Street Journal article “Finding Love in the Frozen Food Aisle,” supermarkets have emerged as Americans’ new hub for face-to-face socializing.
Yes, grocery stores are competing to brand themselves as the fun, hip place to chat with old friends, make new friends, listen to live entertainment, write the great American novel, meet Mr./Miss Right and engage in networking. (“Say, I like the firm way you squeezed that melon. How would you like a vice presidency?”)
Supermarket executives hope people will shop more often, stay longer and spend more – without leaving cashiers thinking they’re trapped in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
Not that there won’t be pushback. Don’t expect traditional clubs to go gently into that good night. They’ll fight fire with fire, with appeals such as “No, you don’t have to learn the secret handshake! We’ve developed a new value-priced GENERIC handshake! And you don’t just get to drive a funny little car – you get to drive a funny little car with squeaky wheels and heaven knows WHAT on the steering wheel.”
And all the online shopping apps, two-hour free delivery, meal kits and “just THINK the words and we’ll cram sandwiches down your throat” services will keep trying to give people an excuse to stay at home.
Still, supermarket bonding may indeed be the future of our communities. The cradle-to-grave, all-aspects-of-your-life push will take some getting used to, though. Won’t it be creepy when an employee announces over the intercom, “Cancel that cleanup on aisle 7, as Mr. Brewer WANTED his ashes from our new in-store crematorium scattered in his favorite section of the store”?
Certainly, supermarkets are safer hang-outs for kids from neighborhoods where bullets are always flying near the playground – unless you factor in the odds of being trampled by stampeding hordes in search of milk, bread and toilet paper when the weatherman absent-mindedly hums “Frosty the Snowman” in August.
Proponents of supermarket dating tout the stores as a safer alternative to seedy singles bars. Perhaps, but you can get lulled into a false sense of security when turning the meat market into, well, a meat market. The commercial jingle “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup” may be replaced by “The best part of waking up is realizing that you beat the odds and DIDN’T get murdered in your sleep by that one-night-stand you met in the toiletries aisle.”
I hate to see grocery chains play reckless one-upmanship when they style themselves as matchmaking experts and courtship destinations. They’ll go from bragging that their customers have the most dazzling smiles or manliest beards to borrowing imagery from Ray Stevens’ 1974 song “The Streak.”
(“I’s standin’ over there by the tomaters, and here he come, running through the poles beans, through the fruits and vegetables, nekkid as a jay bird…”)
Find a friend, lose an appetite: food shopping in the 21st century.
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”