Kroger Carrion

Published 3:33 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

Last night I stepped into Kroger for a “quick trip” to pick up some face wash and check the manager specials. Although I had recently heard my favorite grocery store was closing, I was determined to continue my regular shopping routine as long as possible. After all, nothing had changed.

But, that night, something had. There was a lime-green piece of poster board placed just past the produce section, with a handwritten list of discounted items scrawled underneath.

Frankly, I really didn't pay attention, except that I noticed “hair care” and wondered if my preferred face wash would be on sale too.

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Some say that another local grocery store has better sales prices. That may be true. But, my Kroger savings don't come from the circular. They come from the manager specials. Those bright yellow and orange price tags that usually cover over expiration dates are my shopping guide.

Almost always they won't scan correctly at the checkout when I'm in a hurry. The cashier impatiently tries a few times, stretching the cellophane wrapped mushrooms this way and that, before finally manually typing in the code.

I often do without pre-made salad if there isn't a bag on manager special when I stop in after work. And, oh, the mushrooms. I have a mean recipe for cream of mushroom soup that tastes so much better with portabella mushrooms, an exceptionally pricey choice. Mushrooms cook down. A lot. Because I need a couple of packs to make the soup, portabella soup can be expensive at full price.

Through the gift of manager specials alone, I was able to make that soup on several occasions. In fact, I still have a container of it in my freezer, waiting to be thawed and enjoyed in all its creamy goodness.

Since I moved into town, Kroger has become like a loving grandmother. Yes, she may be old and a little run down. Her chin may be sagging. We all waited and hoped for the day when management might provide her with the dentures she needed. But, as they put off expansion and upgrades, it became apparent that the time for her departure was near. In fact, they had already called in hospice and we didn't even know.

Maybe I'm overreacting. Even as I write this, it seems a little far fetched to compare a grocery store to an aging grandmother. But, there was something so familiar and safe about that store. It wasn't like the looming cavernous mazes offered by the only other two options in Farmville.

I never felt like I was alone in Kroger.

Instead, because of the cozy space, it promoted a sense of community. I more often ran into folks I knew there, mainly because they were impossible to avoid. At big-box mart, I can always duck into the bathing suite section if I'm in a bad mood or see an especially chatty acquaintance I want to avoid. That's near to impossible at Kroger.

Then there are the employees.

A Kroger cashier was the first reader, outside my family, to ever commend me on my columns after they began to regularly run in the paper. Although she had checked me out at the cash register many times, and her cheery disposition is known by all, I didn't even know she knew my name. One day I was rushing through the aisles to grab some milk when she called it out and congratulated me.

Another employee sometimes sits behind me in church. I feel honored to be near her calm and gentle spirit, whether she greets me while stocking shelves or passes the peace after we say the Nicene Creed together.

There we were, the late night shoppers, aghast, standing around the shampoos. They were all marked half-off. Pantene half off is a steal and there's no denying it. But, whether we were overwhelmed by the exceptionally low prices or the overwhelming number of choices, we just stood there, shuffling and avoiding each other's eyes.

I believe it was the half bare shelves. The sight suddenly plunged us into the icy reality of Kroger's nearing end, causing most of us to baulk and forget about saving money for a moment.

Finally, one woman stepped forward who knew what she wanted, scooping up six bottles of her favorite brand.

I gained courage and gingerly picked my two favorites off the shelf and retreated toward the meat, where there was no crowd or closeout sale and the coolers were filled with items as they were meant to be.

I was in shock. This was it. They were clearing the shelves. I looked down at the pork chops laying mutely in their Styrofoam trays. I pulled the shampoo out of my basket, trying to decide if I needed it.

I felt like a vulture. I was feeding on the rotting flesh of a faithful friend, hit on the road by the careless vehicle of progress and profit.

I plucked up my courage and started walking up and down the aisles looking for other closeouts, trying to remember what had been hurriedly written on that neon green poster board. The half-off spices were a real deal, but after picking out several – organic bay leaves, cumin, cream of tarter – I finally put them all back, except for some Kroger brand chili powder.

I was feeling guilty and sad and it was over a grocery store, so it felt very strange.

As is often in the case at Kroger, shoppers started talking in the aisles. A couple that looked vaguely familiar, although I couldn't remember where I'd seen them before, were also looking over the 39 cent canned tomatoes. We chatted, commenting on the sales, our sadness.

I happened to run into someone I knew near the greatly reduced cans of coffee and commented on how I was feeling guilty for feeding off of Kroger's demise. She smiled, “but now you are taking a piece of it with you.”

And, I guess, if you look at it that way, the close of Kroger is unavoidable. As only comes natural to grandchildren, we were always taking a piece of it with us. Each conversation, each hug, each spiced gumdrop was worth a few calories of energy: the effort it took her to place the treat in the cut glass bowl, the struggle to rise out of her chair to bid us farewell. Energy is precious in the old. It is inevitable that eventually the supply will run out. Death comes to all.

Maybe I'm being too dramatic. After all, it is just a grocery story. But, this is all I wanted to say, I ran into Kroger for a quick visit last night and nearly left in tears.