Sometimes a facelift is purely cosmetic - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Sometimes a facelift is purely cosmetic

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe
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Lynne D. Schwabe is the director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.

A local grocery store that shall remain nameless is about a year or more into a massive renovation. The store was quite large to begin with, so I personally didn’t see the need to remodel everything; but then, I am not a grocery store executive, creating empires.

The old store’s aisles were indeed cluttered with additional displays adjacent to the actual regular shelves. Two carts couldn’t pass without intensive manipulation. Forget having three or more people in the aisles; passage became impossible. So, aha! An argument for remodeling: wider aisles. Except that with newer, roomier aisles, there is more real estate for clutter, and it’s even harder to negotiate the pathways.

At various times during remodeling, I noticed the drastic shrinking of product selection. When I asked a friend who worked there about this, he assured me it was temporary and the remodeled store would have room to encompass all of the old stuff and some exciting, new stuff. Aha! Another reason for remodeling: greater product selection. There is, for example, a new, expanded cheese section at this store, which looks impressive. The cheeses are spread out and easier to see, but few weren’t there before. I remain skeptical about the point of all this effort.

As the store gets deeper and deeper into renovation, things are more and more jumbled. Even the clerks who work there had no clue where to find anything. Frequently, I found myself wandering about, looking vainly for, say, limes while muttering to myself, “This would be a great place for a grocery store.” Limes are not exotic. How could a store not stock them? During the water crisis, I began buying ice, afraid I might grow two heads if I used the ice from my machine. For a week I went to this store every day for my supply. Every day the ice chests were bare. Finally I complained to a store assistant. “Oh, I told them about that three days ago,” she said. Again, yesterday, no ice in the store. Do they not manage inventory on a regular basis? Seems simple to me. Empty shelves: order more! Of course I was only in retailing for 30-plus years, so what do I know (and I certainly know nothing about food retailing)? However, being the curious person I am, always thirsting for knowledge, I asked. The store is currently remodeling the freezer cases, so for the duration, no ice. I know its ice chest was moved from place-to-place in previous iterations of the remodel, so why not now? I can’t figure out this logic, and it bothers me. Needless to say, the clerk I asked had no clue.

My newest issue is checkout. Since I go to this unnamed store almost every day, I see its day-to-day changes. Recently, no matter what time I go, checkout lines are 10-20 people deep. Yesterday, at 5 p.m., I noticed two clerk-operated check out lines were open, one of which was an Express Line. All the other new, shiny stations for clerk checkouts were closed. To be fair, the self-help check out lines have been expanded, but I want to use clerk-operated lines because I want these people to keep their jobs. I’ve vented about this before: If, after waiting 20 minutes in line to check out, I get to the top of a line only to be told that line is closing, I will lose it. I experienced a great way to deal with this problem in another state this week. A clerk who was about to go on break told the last person in her line to place the “closed” sign on the conveyor belt. No one had to experience waiting for 20 minutes only to be told to buzz off. Jeez, people, this is not rocket science.

I admit that I love (well, loved) going to the grocery store. I think about food in my free time, and I eagerly learn about new food products. When Wegman’s opened in Virginia, a friend and I went on opening day. We were there two hours, exclaiming over the amazing things that were now easily available: duck fat, buffalo, French cheeses (and incredible crackers), locally-sourced produce, Jamon, veal shanks for osso bucco, venison. I am not unmoved about the possibilities a new, larger grocery store can provide. I just have to be convinced of the benefits at this grocery store, having seen nothing yet to inspire me. Granted the store’s remodel is not done. Perhaps when its new doors open, whenever, there will be a transformation, the likes of which hasn’t been seen before on West Virginia shores. In my naivety, I remain optimistic. However, not all is lost. One clerk has a sense of humor. As he lifted my final bag into the cart at check out, the bottom broke, and groceries spilled all over the place.

“They just don’t make grocery bags like they used to,” he said. “That was supposed to happen in your driveway.”