As I am fond of saying, if you wait long enough, everything comes back into fashion.
My family moved into Garden Grove when I was 7 years old, and the supermarket we made a bee-line for was the Food Giant at Katella Avenue and Euclid Street. We went there because we had been loyal customers of the Food Giant in Torrance when we had resided in the Wilmington district of Los Angeles.
Although that was many years ago, I still have vivid memories of that place. That was where I bought my first comic books (10 cents each, and all in color!), grudgingly picked out Valentine’s Day cards and otherwise helped comprise the family caravan that went marketing every Saturday.
We eventually switched loyalties to other supermarkets (primarily Vons and Cole’s) but in the ninety zillion times I passed by that building over the decades, it still always pinged a little memory of buying Justice League comics and lobbying Mom for more cookies.
So it was with a sense of déjà voodoo that I returned to that same building last week as it re-opened as a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. After many years as a Pep Boys (with some associated uses also in the building), the world’s biggest retailer revived the idea of a market there, to considerable civic fanfare last Friday morning.
Now, normally, I don’t go to ribbon-cuttings (clichés on toast), but I was drawn to this one for the potential collision of irony and memory.
You may remember that there was a big uproar in town a few years ago when Wal-Mart proposed to build a huge (170,000-square foot) superstore in the old Vons Pavilions building on Chapman Avenue near Brookhurst.
It would have been open 24 hours a day and surpassed Costco as the largest store in the Big Strawberry. Small (and not-so-small) retailers cried out in pain, and social activists raised the alarm over Wal-Mart’s controversial influences.
Supporters said how it would revive a shopping center in decline and bring in big sales tax revenue to the city; opponents argued it would hurt small firms and drive union-organized supermarkets out of business.
For reasons which are still subject to speculation, Wal-Mart abruptly dropped its plans to the disappointment of some and the delight of others.
The most likely reason for Wal-Mart’s disappearing act was not local protest but instead a strategy shift toward smaller stores than can help the firm expand in urban areas where land costs are higher, making megastores expensive. The new Wal-Mart supermarket is an example of this new direction, and it has opened without a whimper of dissent.
Although the new store is modern, gleaming and quite attractive, my memories provided a kind of overlay for the trip down the aisles. The chicken rotisserie should be there. And where’s the TV bulb-testing station? And the comic book “twirler”?
That night I suggested that Marilyn and I do the weekend shopping there. (Note to younger couples: this is what it can come to after nearly 20 years of marriage: date night at the grocery store). Long story short: she loved it. Low prices. Wide aisles. Good selection. Plenty of help.
As a lifelong labor guy, I have always gravitated toward the union shops. I argue that higher wages paid to those workers create greater buying power which helps the economy more in general than the benefit of lower prices.
Her position is, I think, that any reasonable person is going to go where prices are lower. Whatever they save means more buying power, or money to put in the bank.
It’s not just about Wal-Mart, either. Target is moving heavily into groceries at one end of the market, and Fresh And Easy at the other.
Strolling out with our purchases, the view of the parking lot (especially with the Carl’s Jr. in the background, one of the first such eateries in Orange County) struck a note of visual memory. But nostalgia can only go so far.
Now we’ll see which view of economic liberty prevails.
Fiscal rivalry at Katella and Euclid on a Friday night.