When, a few weeks back, I heard that Daffy’s on Chestnut would be closing down, two thoughts hit me immediately:
- Damn. Where will I buy all my tights now? And …
- Please, please let them fill the space with a three-story grocery Trader Joe’s. Or Acme. Or Wegman’s. Anything with lots of groceries, and lots of checkout lanes.
Alas, the only rumors of a new tenant I’ve heard involve a Forever 21. Blerg.
Now, I see how born-and-bred city folk might not understand how the plethora of markets we have here could leave anybody wanting. But I grew up in the suburbs, the daughter of a supermarket executive. For my entire youth, grocery shopping meant going to one big, clean, cold store for every possible need I might have from tomatoes to Tide to fresh turbot. Naturally, the moment an alternative way of shopping was introduced—I think it was in French class, learning about French shopping habits—I leapt for it. How romantic, I thought, to get one’s cheese from a monger, and bread from a baker, and meat from a butcher. When I got a little older and started watching cooking shows, it only reinforced my grocery daydreams; I imagined happily spending every sunny Saturday like Ina Garten did, bopping around just collecting ingredients from specialty stores.
To my younger, naïve self, I say: Be careful what you wish for, self.
Because in reality, I keep different hours than Ina, and so spending roughly 34 percent of my leisure time in one store or another, on the hunt, isn’t as charming as I once thought it might be. Except for the trips to the farmers’ markets, those Saturday (and some Monday nights and sometimes Thursdays) shopping trips look nothing like my old daydreams. I spend my grocery time not cheerfully greeting the cheese guy and sampling the artisanal ice creams, but just praying for stocked shelves and short lines (why is it like a snowstorm’s coming all day, every day at Trader Joe’s?), and that I can find a block of parmesan that won’t cost as much as our electric bill (yeah, Whole Foods), and that I might be so lucky as to find both organic rainbow quinoa and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in a spray bottle in the same store. (Anybody? Anybody?)
Don’t get me wrong, please: Within the confines of Center City, we are extremely lucky to have a wide array of specialty markets, grocery stores, farmstands, health shops, drugstores, and bodegas. In some combination of those, one certainly can find everything one needs, and then some. It seems to me that figuring out the right combination of places for your fridge and your wallet and your schedule involves constant strategizing, like a never-ending game of Battleship. This, for me, doesn’t rise to the level of “problem”—merely a sliver of city life that I am still adjusting to … five years in.
A friend of mine has it down. “We go to Whole Foods for meats and fish and other groceries, but we got tired of the crazy lines. Now, we wake up really early on Sunday mornings, park, get coffee, and make sure we’re there no later than 9:30. We’ll stop by the farmers’ markets for fruit and vegetables. Oh, but if I’m baking or cleaning, then we have to hit a little food market on South Street for supplies.” Three stores, three hours, one stocked pantry: Not terrible.
In my neighborhood, we have a corner produce market that’s great for your run-of-the-mill fruits and veggies and also, oddly, potato chips, but for most other dry goods and cooking ingredients and meats, you really have to go to the bigger family-owned market down the street, which has a good selection, but which closes early and often. Of course, we can also do Whole Foods, which is okay if you’re flush with cash and aren’t craving, say, Cheeze-Its. There’s also Trader Joe’s if you’re in the mood for crowds and don’t need ingredients so much as prepared foods; there’s Superfresh, but that’s far from our house and the last time I was there the man in front of me in line had a knife in his belt. Di Bruno’s is for treats.
Sometimes I worry that this one small part of me—the part that gets misty over the relative ease of the Krogers of my youth—simply refuses to adjust to city living. But then I take a trip to the Wegmans in the ‘burbs, and find myself wandering the cavernous aisles, in stores big as some college campuses. There, I can find my chocolate chips and quinoa and Tide all in one place, and I can buy them all at 10 p.m. But somewhere between the row of throw rugs and the one with Le Creuset dutch ovens, it occurs to me that this hunt is not necessarily more convenient: Each section is basically the equivalent of a city block, filled with more choice, but with much less character. If I’m to be a hunter and gatherer, I might as well do so on my own turf, where I at least can say that I recognize the cheese guy.
Still, supermarket executives? If you’re out there? There’s a great big vacant storefront at 17th and Chestnut that would be perfect for an olive bar and bakery and deli counter. Just sayin’.