Within walking distance from my South Loop home, there are now five major grocery stores: Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Trader Joe’s and two Jewels on Roosevelt within five blocks of each other–ever since Jewel took over the Dominick’s in October after the old stalwart went out of business.
There’s also a decent Target grocery and a lot of big, high-quality specialty grocers. too. We are far from being a food desert like people used to say about the South Loop.
Something very special is happening in supermarket sales these days in the South Loop, too–which for some reason absolutely never, ever, ever seemed to happen over the last decade-and-a-half as all these stores came one-by-one to the neighborhood. Suddenly, they’ve learned they can’t depend on a solid and groveling customer base; they can’t take their customers for granted anymore. The customers have elsewhere to go.
The grocery stores are competing!
Capitalism is alive and well in the South Loop. Textbook capitalism that everyone’s forgotten about in the age of screwed up government regulation or lack thereof: free market; no monopolies; no price-fixing; no treating customers like a bunch of suckers. Pure and simple competition that’s supposed to keep prices low and customer service up. Whatever the customers like in one store–be it organic everything; or no food additives in anything; or tons of sweet, gushing employees singing out, “Can I help you find something?”–the other stores are now doing it, too. There are lots of valuable coupons and special offers. The stores are all raising their level of cleanliness, customer service and food quality. Whatever they lacked before, they definitely have now.
Whole Foods seems less snooty–and more real. And lo and behold, they just sent the neighbors a common-man-type coupon to trade in for $15 of food. And maybe with all this competition, $15 might go a little farther there?
Jewel is cleaning itself up, as well. They have new carts. (Like Mariano’s.) And new coupons for things like a free half-gallon of fresh orange juice. Curiously, it’s sold in the exact same container that Mariano’s so proudly introduced their fresh orange juice to the neighborhood in when they opened recently. The fresh juice was a big hit. So Jewel hit on it, too.
And there are suddenly lots of free samples at Jewel, dished out by employees who rave about the taste, the quality and the price. Just like they do at Trader Joe’s.
The people at the service desk at Jewel don’t argue anymore when you dispute something. They just seem to be carrying out the old Marshall Field & Company adage, “Give the lady shat she wants! The customer’s always right!” Or in the case of grocery stores, the Trader Joe’s adage which is, no matter what you bring back to Trader Joe’s, we’ll take it and hand you a wad of cash that you think you have coming. With a smile, and no questions asked. Jewel is learning to do that, too.
In fact, they’re all learning from each other. And about what people want. And economics. It’s a rat race out there, they seem to be saying, and we’re catching on. They are all genuinely asking South Loopers to give them a go as they try to eliminate what people can’t stand. They also know if they don’t pick out the best of each other and do it, too, they won’t pick up their sales–or even maintain them–and they might end up like Dominick’s.
It’s a typical American economy wake up call that we used to read about back in the day. Or at least in the newspaper during the gasoline price wars.
So South Loopers, enjoy the prices, the specials, the rarefied atmosphere within the walls of whatever grocery store you choose today. Enjoy the no-conveyor belt check out lines, the booze for a song–and the quaint customer service that’s burgeoning at whatever store you’re at. You have all the other grocery stores to thank for your good fortune.