Friday, May 7, 2010

Grocery Heaven Is Here

I have been to the new Georgetown Safeway
and I am here to sing its praises. After closing for a year-long renovation/total rebuilding, the new store is now open for business, and boy has it won my business! It's everything I want from a grocery store, except Costco prices. (But then, that really would be asking the impossible, wouldn't it?) It's big, but not overwhelmingly so. It's got everything I put on my shopping list -- even some obscure items I would have bet I'd never find. And it's good looking -- by which I mean it's not the ugly concrete box we've all come to expect a large store to be. From the street it appears appropriately sized for the neighborhood and inviting to pedestrians as well as drivers. The two-level parking lot is nicely tucked around the back and underneath the building. Inside, it's clean and logically laid out. I had no trouble finding things, but even if I had, during this first week, there are greeters and guides standing by the front door, ready to take you around and personally escort you down the aisles until you arrive at your destination. (Well, I'm sure that won't last, but in the meantime, it gives a certain Japanese Zen-like quality to the shopping experience. Enjoy it while you can.)

Actually, I didn't require a guide. I was happy to wander around, making each new discovery on my own. There's the bakery with a bay of lovely loaves, enticingly arranged. Next, the patisserie, where I was encouraged to sample the cakes and confections. The young man behind the counter earnestly assured me that there was a chocolatier on site at all times checking the equipment so that the temperature of the chocolate remains constant. I tried a dark chocolate pretzel that came from some famous chocolate pretzel maker in Pennsylvania. (I pretended to have heard of it, because I didn't want to disappoint him.) I wandered past the sushi bar and was tempted for a minute to take a seat at the counter and have a California roll, but I couldn't spare the time, not if I wanted to tour the aisles and aisles of wine offerings. Nor did I have time to enter the separate, climate controlled, ultra-high-end wine shop, where the hundred-dollar-a-bottle-and-up wines are stored with special care. Next time, perhaps. Same for the sit-down Starbucks cafe. I finished up my tour with a dash through the frozen foods section, but soon realized there was no need to move so fast; for the first time in a grocery history, I felt no need to rush through the chill-zone. With these new energy-saving freezer cases, there's not even a nip of frost leaking out into the air. No wishing for a sweater for this part of the trip. Though I didn't have to rush to stay warm, let hastily finish off my virtual tour with a quick mention of the full-service pharmacy, the florist shop, the deli counter, the cheese offerings, the produce departments (organically grown and not) and the multiple places to buy different kinds of prepared dinners (I may never cook again!).

And now to the checkout. In this first week, when it's bumper-to-bumper shopping carts all up and down the aisles, I assumed that the checkout couldn't help but be slow. Pleasant surprise: It was actually pretty zippy. They've got all cashiers working, with ushers to steer you to the shortest line. There are self-checkout cashiers for those adept at doing their own scanning and bagging. (One day I'll get the hang of that!) I'm definitely going back soon.

I expect to be a weekly customer, until such time as Cleveland Park gets its own upgraded, new and improved supermarket. (Why don't we have such a thing already? Hmmm....I don't think I'll get into that, lest I be accused of sneaking an editorial into what's supposed to be my quirky-cute column on life in the city. But I do need to toss out this observation: That a store of this size and scope can be designed to fit in comfortably, even charmingly, into a low-scale historic neighborhood, without causing traffic backups or any other widely-feared effects. Go take a look and see the example in action yourself.) I digress. I didn't mean to talk about anything but this Safeway. There's one thing I'm sure my single readers will want to know: Is it still the "Social Safeway"? Yes, and now more than ever, it lives up to its reputation. You can linger over the melons just as you did in the past, waiting for that someone of your dreams to seek your counsel on the question of firmness and ripeness. But now you have other choices as well: Looking to meet a hiker? Hang out at the trail mix bins. Or find a fellow caffeine addict at the Starbucks. Wait for a wasabi lover at the sushi bar. You get the idea. (And if you do find your soulmate while shopping at the Social Safeway or in any other consumer-related excursion, I'd be interested to hear your story, perhaps for a future column. Bill and I met at a Safeway -- in a manner of speaking. But that's a story I'm saving for another column, perhaps sometime in October, around our 22nd anniversary.


Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, May 7, 2010.

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