My Kroger Is A Dump, And Why I Still Shop There

My Kroger store is a dump.

Every time I go in there there’s some new Hell I have to endure. I almost always have to use the bathroom when I get there because I drink three to four liters of water a day at work, so by the time I reach Kroger I’ve got to go..bad. I think the urinal has gray tape over it with a cardboard sign reading “Out Of Order” over it – written as if the Little Rascals themselves wrote it with the “r” backwards – more than it’s been functional in the last five years. The stalls are entrances to the Underworld by the look and smell of them, so you have to be careful when entering. The floor is perpetually wet, and the towel dispensers haven’t worked since Obama was in office, so you have to use the communal wet roll of paper towel sitting on the soaked sink counter.

Either I’ve gotten bigger or there’s some kind of tampering with the laws of physics going on, because the aisles seem to have narrowed over the last decade or so. Maybe it’s all the extra kiosks they’ve put up selling garbage holiday candy, or discount knick knacks that are making it feel a little tighter in the square footage dept. I feel like there’s barely enough room for two grocery carts coming in opposite directions to pass each other without one swiping the other. Then you have to stop for apologies, or figure out who actually needs to apologize. Insurance information is traded, and if the Kroger police gets involved then plan on an extra thirty minutes to your shopping experience.

A few years back the Kroger management did some major renovating, switching where what products go in which aisles, making the deli and bakery areas more boutique-like. They wanted you to have the illusion of shopping at a Whole Foods or Fresh Market, instead of a crappy Kroger in a crappy town. While some of the other lost souls that regularly shop there were thrilled at the “fancy” floors and dim lighting, I was furious. I’d worked for years to learn the lay of the land so that when I arrived I could get in and out in record time. Having this new geographic retail layout meant I was handicapped when I entered my Kroger. I had to completely relearn where my Jif and Italian Roast coffee and Kroger refried beans were now residing. I felt like I did shopping up in Canada on our family vacation up north back in 2019. I was a stranger in a strange land.

Eventually I did figure out that the peanut butter now lived directly across the street from the Private Selection Multigrain bread, and that the won ton wrappers now lived in the refrigerated section next to the Kroger Crescent Rolls, instead of in the produce dept next to the minced ginger and basil paste. It was a trying few weeks, but I overcame. After that shopping days became as good as shopping days could be. Still the same weirdos with 5-6pks of 20oz Pepsi products dangling from the sides of their carts, and the same kids whining because they wanted Cheeto Puffs instead of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos(“That’s what yer dad likes, so keep it shut!”) were mewing as loudly as they could mew. Even the guy with the parrot on his shoulder with bird shit making its way down his back was doing his regular haunt.

Things were back to normal.

But the last few years it seems the old place is decomposing before my very eyes. The bathroom continues to struggle for levels of even intermediate functionality. Product frequently disappears from the shelves for weeks at a time, and that whole space thing continues to be a problem. After Covid I’m paranoid enough about getting sick, so when I’m rubbing elbows in the aisle with wheezing, sneezing, coughing shopping compatriots I’m hard pressed to do shots of hand sanitizer in the car after loading the bags into the Accord.

So why do I continue to go to our hometown Kroger after such a down grade to third world conditions? I’d like to say laziness, but that’s too easy. The comfort of familiarity, I suppose. I mean, there are other options in town.

Of course there’s the big W, Walmart. I stopped shopping there a few years ago. If ever there was a literal design of the decline of western civilization it would be Sam Walton’s monopolizing monstrosity of Capitalism. It was for a very long time our family’s main source of “product”, both in sustenance and entertainment. Not to mention clothes for the kids and whatever else struck my fancy as I bought Mac n Cheese, frozen chicken nuggets, and questionable produce. But at some point I got tired of the whole ‘everything in one building’ style of shopping. The cheaper prices just didn’t make the mental acrobats and circus atmosphere worth it.

It’s been well over a decade now, but we also have a Martins. Martins is a store with great atmosphere, but prices are pretty high there. The biggest draw for years was the Starbucks that was inside the store. It was a great place to take the kids as a treat. Coffee for dad, hot cocoa or some drink that looked like a sundae for the kids, and muffins for all. It was a nice place to feel like you weren’t in your own town. But for regular shopping? Nope. Not with five mouths to feed.

We also have a Meijer. Now, I do actually shop at Meijer. Not for everything, but for those odds and ends when I forget something on the regular grocery day(which is Wednesday, in case you were wondering.) While the prices are reasonable, they’re still a little higher than going to Kroger. I’ve been the grocery buyer for years now, so I have a system and I keep the grocery buying at or below budget. It’s what I do. But I will say going to Meijer is like a treat. Wide aisles, place is clean, and they usually have everything I need on the shelf.

Despite options, I remain steadfast in my grocery shopping with Kroger and Aldi.

Besides laziness and not liking change all that much, the other reason I stick with the dilapidated Kroger is because of our history. Before our Kroger was Kroger, it was Owen’s. Owen’s was a locally-owned family grocery store that had been in our town since 1959. It was the store that I went to with my mom for grocery shopping as a kid. It was also the store that I worked at my senior year of high school as a bag boy. Then the summer after graduation I was promoted to night shift stocker. I worked 3rd shift four nights a week stocking HBA(health and beauty aids.) Owen’s eventually built a new store on the east side of town(the “new” Owen’s, where as the one on the west side was the “old” Owen’s.)

Sometime in the late 90s the “new” Owen’s became the former new Owen’s when they built a sort of super Owen’s next to it. That’s the store we’ve shopped at since. It’s the Owen’s my wife and I went to and bought comfort foods after our first miscarriage. It was the store I’d take my middle kid to after I picked her up from middle school and I’d buy her a Starbucks drink and a dessert from the bakery. We’d sit at a table and enjoy our drinks and desserts and talk about the day while waiting till her younger brother was ready to be picked up at Lincoln Elementary. It was the place my son and I would head into at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night when after watching a scary movie we decided we needed a pint of ice cream to ease the psychic wounds of whatever horrorfest we just finished. And it was where my son at 17-years old got his first job. Sure, it didn’t last more than a couple months, but he followed in his old man’s footsteps.

All those things happened at Owen’s, and even though it hasn’t said that name on the front of the store in quite a few years it’s still Owen’s to me.

The toilet doesn’t work half the time and the aisles are too small; there’s even a guy that walks around the store with a parakeet on his shoulder with bird shit staining his already sad and fading t-shirt. But I’ll keep going there, probably until they shutter the doors. Why? Because it feels like home. A nasty, gross home.

Also, because I know where the peanut butter and won ton wrappers are. That’s not nothing.

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