Grocery Shopping in the Philly Burbs: Replacing My Beloved Genuardi’s

A test of ACME vs. Giant vs. McCaffrey's.

When the news came out that Giant had bought Genuardi’s, ending the local grocery chain’s long life, our household was taken aback. My wife was stung by the loss of the bakery’s carb-heavy ciabatta bread and brownies softer than Jodie Meeks’s jump shot. I wasn’t as distraught. To quote my dad, I have the palate of a dump truck. Initially, what struck me about Genuardi’s departure was that it seemed like another deathblow to any supermarkets not as big as football stadiums.

In an age when everything is allegedly bigger and better—bookstores with coffee bars, movie theaters with 3-D spectacles playing on 25 screens—our Genuardi’s felt cozy, navigable. I could get a full order without feeling winded; a quick trip for milk and bread could be accomplished in two minutes. To me, this was a godsend. I moved to Bucks County from central New Jersey, probably the epicenter of commerce-induced sprawl. The ShopRites I frequented had so many options that food shopping shot past the inconveniences associated with the word chore. So what if I can buy a DVD player? I want to find a box of Wheat Thins without sobbing.

The closing of a beloved supermarket may sound insignificant to city-based readers. But what culture is to cities, convenience is to the suburbs. Now, that was threatened. I had to summon a drive rarely required in the land of Applebee’s and find a better life. Or, to be more accurate, a place where cans of soup were regularly two for five.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I spent three hours shopping for an heir. Before doing so, we established boundaries. Neither of us wanted to turn weekly food shopping into a commute. Since we’re firmly planted in the 99 percentile, the natural or high-end stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods we’re out as regular options. And there was no way in hell we were shopping at Walmart, the support for every creationist’s argument.

That left us with three options: ACME, Giant, and McCaffrey’s.

Grocery Shopping Test #1: ACME
Located a few hundred yards from our Genuardi’s in Newtown, ACME had everything: automobile accessories, tons of personal care products, even a bountiful Tastykake display. The selection of ethnic foods was impressive, as were the produce and bakery sections. But the prices were higher than we expected, and its massive size was an impediment, perhaps a casualty of the one-stop shopping missions adopted by Walmart and Target.

Grocery Shopping Test #2: McCaffrey’s
Earth tones. Subdued lighting. High-end products—who knew maple syrup could get so fancy? McCaffrey’s is where Woody Allen characters would shop if the great director left New York City. I felt like I should be wearing a blazer and quoting Kierkegaard. The aisles were narrow and the prices hefty ($5.99 for a 12-pack of Coke), but the quality and variety of the meats intoxicated us. McCaffrey’s, which bills itself as “A Supermarket Experience,” is a place to shop for special occasions, like Thanksgiving dinner or a visit from a head of state.

Grocery Shopping Test #3: Giant
Giant, which will replace our Genuardi’s, proved to be the best option after we gave the Yardley location a whirl. The size, prices and selection were comparable to Genuardi’s, but the amenities belonged to a larger venue like ACME: self-check-out machines that actually read coupons, half-carts, price scanners and a store directory. “I feel like I can handle this,” my wife said.

So can I. Whether Giant has Genuardi’s personality is another thing. It tried harder, offering carryout service to your car, eschewing self-checkouts for personal transactions—a mixed blessing, but still. For a while, a table by the exit held a used book sale for charity. A casualty of the suburbs’ beloved convenience is that it can create a uniform blandness. It’s rare to find a retail chain, or any business, where every move doesn’t feel pre-determined by a corporate handbook.

The mid-sized supermarket still exists. As for feeling like a human being inside one, that remains to be seen.