Thursday, February 12, 2004

Is there such a thing as too many choices?

There's something a little obscene about a big, fully stocked, gleaming American supermarket, isn't there? My husband and I visited the new Super Acme in our town yesterday (supermarket isn't grand enough anymore, we now have Super supermarkets), and I came away both impressed and uncomfortable. There's something about walking past aisle after aisle of appealingly arranged abundance that forces me to think of those less fortunate. There are people starving in the world, and I have 105 varieties of frozen dinner at my fingertips. Also a deli. And a bakery. Gourmet hors d'oeuvres ready to heat and eat on Aisle 1. More produce than humans should be allowed to have. And a Starbucks coffee stand.

That last one's pretty amusing, because a few years ago Starbucks dissed our town by refusing to grant us a store for our downtown. Frustrated coffe-philes had to travel to a Barnes & Noble on the outskirts of town for their lattes, and now I guess we can grab one to sip while shopping. Since our only other Starbucks outlet is in a monster megaplex movie theater, I'm sensing a pattern: They'll let us pay $2 for a cup of coffee just as long as we don't mingle with their regular clientele. No coffehouse atmosphere for us. The Super Acme coffee stand has two tiny tables placed more or less in the line of traffic coming through the Super front doors. So the message is clear: Drink up, now.

It's certainly in the supermarket's interest to keep people moving on into the store, anyway. They've got an awful lot of stuff to sell. Strolling past the shelves yesterday, a week or so after Opening Day, it was hard to tell whether they were so neatly stocked because they were constantly looked after, or because nobody had bought anything. Maybe Starbucks was right about us: Maybe we're not the kind of town that can support a coffehouse or a store with a whole foods aisle and every kind of ethnic delicacy. Maybe we're only super, not Super. Time will tell, I guess, if we really need 70 kinds of soup or can make do with 32. Though I'll tell you, the big Krispy Kreme display by the checkstands made a good impression on me.

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