retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Washington Post has a lovely story this morning about a Safeway there that is being shut down, leaving some wonderful memories behind.

The Tenleytown Safeway, across the street from the Georgetown Day School, is described as a place full of "psychic data," reflective of the community it served and serving the community it reflected.

"Tied up in the material the store sells are snippets of the lives supermarkets sustain, including mine," says the writer, Julia Fisher. "Thousands of neighbors, many of whom I knew and more of whom I didn’t, have walked these aisles and wondered why they could never find the sauerkraut or the beer (my Safeway did not sell beer; the sauerkraut was just hard to find). They went at the end of a long day and then had to wait 25 minutes in the checkout line. Maybe someone consoled himself by buying a tub of ice cream. Transactions and acquisitions are the profile of our days: Safeway had them.

"I’ve been to that Safeway more than any other store. It’s across the street from where I went to school and, later, taught; for many years, I lived a few blocks away. For those who work or live nearby, it was a staple of life, good for a quick lunch, a last-minute purchase for an event or a venture out when you just needed to go somewhere else. Safeway had everything—rows and rows of consumable products. All that choice provided a refuge from the limitations of life outside the fluorescent lighting. You could buy an energy drink you’d never drink or a lousy novel you’d never read, and you’d feel good. And yet somehow the Safeway often managed not to have what you needed."

Throughout the story, Fisher continually uses possessive terms to refer to the store - whatever its quirks and disappointments, it was a store that held a special place in people's lives.

"Clearly our supermarkets - and in Washington, it is often our Safeways - play a significant role in ordinary life," Fisher writes. "They’re fixtures; otherwise, we wouldn’t give them nicknames. There’s the Social Safeway, the Soviet Safeway, the Sandinista Safeway: These places are communal markers, because just about everyone has to go some time or other. This one was sometimes called the Secret Safeway (or the Super-Secret Safeway, to distinguish it from another defunct 'secret' store in Dupont), because it isn’t visible from Wisconsin Avenue."

You can read the entire story here, and it offers an important lesson for every sort of retailer. Stores can be stores, or they can be something more ... intrinsic to the life of a community, purveyor of goods that sustain and delight us, employer of our children, and even, in best moments, a provider of inspiration.

Read the story. It is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: