Here come the grocerants

I have a natural aversion to grocery shopping, probably because when I was growing up, I really didn’t experience this chore.

My parents owned a mom-and-pop grocery store situated in the middle of our neighborhood. Anything we wanted, we just plucked off the shelf. We lived above the store, so we didn’t have to jump in the car to run out for anything forgotten. No grocery list required.

Though our store was probably half the size of the old Quality Market in Medford, we carried most everything one needed. We even had a walk-in freezer that accommodated a side of beef. My dad hired a part-time butcher who cut steaks and chops on our weathered butcher block and ground meat in our old grinder.

Butch (I never knew his full name) wore an apron stained with blood splatters from hacking away on the beef. Sometimes he ate lunch with me, but I found him unappetizing because he had a habit of talking with his mouth full of food. When I kept gagging at the lunch table, my mom nipped that in the bud.

Our deli meat and cheeses were sliced or chipped on our slicer (chipped ham was a hot item in western Pennsylvania). Once a week my dad made fresh ham salad, then called our regular customers to let them know. That ham salad never lasted more than a day.

We carried fresh produce, canned goods, all kinds of nosh, including chips, candy bars and ice cream, along with soap, foil, waxed paper. If we wanted Bayer aspirin or cough medicine, that required a trip to the drug store. Every store had a specific purpose then: clothing stores, the Five and Ten Store for just about everything else. We were not a Fred Meyer.

Our market was kind of like Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Many customers, for the most part, did not run in and out. All sorts of news of the day, the weather, the kids, and local sports topics were bandied about. My dad was quite the character with a super-sized sense of humor. His habit of throwing out insults with a twinkle in his eye and a hearty laugh behind his not-so-serious barbs did not deter customers who were used to him. In fact, I think they expected it. My mom, on the other hand, listened to customers’ turmoils and troubles with a sympathetic ear.

Some patrons phoned in their orders, which my mom would write down as she held the phone on one shoulder. Our phone had an attachment that allowed her to be hands-free as she diligently listed every item the caller requested. After the order was filled, my dad delivered it to the residence and even unpacked the box or bags.

When I was a senior in high school, all of that came to a screeching halt. The first big supermarket came to town and situated itself brazenly two blocks from our house. Business slowed and loyal customers even apologized for taking their business down the street. But who could blame them? More selection and variety tempted and lured them to this newer, bigger store. It didn’t take long for my parents to shut the door to our market and surrender.

I think my parents would be spinning in their graves right now if they could see the rise of the “grocerants.” According to a USA Today article published in April, the food industry has coined this new term referring to the blending of grocery stores and restaurants. Customers now have the convenience of ordering a meal, then filling their carts. More consumers are choosing to dine at their local grocery stores instead of the traditional “Let’s go out to dinner” establishments.

Everybody is seeking convenience these days, apparently led by the millennials. Freshly prepared meals on the spot are offered cheaper than going to a fast-casual restaurant. It could be that establishments used to overflowing crowds on Friday nights will start feeling the pinch from these innovative giants, much like we did in the 1960s.

One thing I know for sure, though. If my dad were alive today, he’d be the first one to sprint out the door to one of these grocerants for a wood-fired pizza. He never could resist a freshly made pizza.

— Judy Entinger lives in Medford.

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