Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Grocery Store Population Schedule

For the past seven years, I've done the majority of our family's grocery shopping. As life circumstances have changed over that period, I've found myself shopping at various times of the day. The chance to observe the grocery store through its daily and weekly rhythm has given me insight into patterns of who shops when at my city-edge/first-ring-suburb grocery store.

Early Weekday mornings: CIC Time
The old and frail clog the aisles on early weekday mornings. They've been up since 5:15 anyway, just waiting to get their day off to a roaring start by purchasing a quart of milk, some Lean Cuisines and a box of After Eight mints. The dominant population makes itself known through their most graphic symbol: canes in carts (hence CIC time). If you walk with a cane, a grocery cart transforms into a walker with the advantage of storage. While you store your Metamucil in there, you can also store your cane, which you don't need as long as you can lean your shuffling weight against your temporary wire mesh traveling companion. On a recent trip, I saw a member of the CIC set with another telltale accessory: the giant magnifying glass.

Late Weekday Mornings: The At-Home Hour
It takes the at-home parents a little minute longer to get to the grocery store than their geriatric forebears. Clusters of 1-3 children per shopping party make this the most difficult time to get the novelty carts (truck, racecar) that my children covet. Kids occupy themselves with a few activities: munching cookie card cookies from the bakery; pointing out licensed merchandise to buy; climbing into, out of, onto and off of the cart. The at-home moms occupy themselves not making eye contact with me because I'm the wrong gender. The few at-home dads give me the "hey bro" nod.
Weekday Lunch: The Saddest Office Lunch Hour EverWho eats lunch at the supermarket? Yes, there are tables near the hot food counter. Yes, there's that popcorn machine in there. But isn't that just to save the staff from walking across the parking lot to Wendy's? In my benefit-of-the-doubt theory, the guy in the tie eats there with the woman in black jeans because she's his wife, who works there. Employee discount and all. That's still pretty sad; I'm crying as I type.
Early Weekday Afternoon: The Golden LullPossibly the easiest time of day to get that prime parking space close to the door or the cart corral (depending on your priorities in life). Clog-free aisles and a deli counter with no line await. Fully-staffed daytime checkers make for plenty of checkout options with little competition. The at-home set has retreated home to oversee naps. Other would-be customers are napping themselves or working or pregaming for WheelofFortuneOprahJudgeJudy.
Early Weekday Evening: Workday Warrior SeasonI work all day. I have no kids. There's no babysitter on the clock. I don't really plan out meals. I go to the grocery store in my work clothes on the way home and grab some stuff. I use the self checkout.
Weekday Evening: Prime Time...for Staff HormonesWhile some customer groups mark this time, the most dominating population is the staff - part-timers who don't get the cherry daytime shifts. When Paige was in law school, one night a week presented a daddy-toddler bonding ritual with little Charlie at the grocery store. When this was my key time to shop, I could expect interminable waits at the deli ("I've been thin-slicing this ham for seven hours straight, and I'm so tired I'm not going to make eye contact with any of the dozen people holding those flimsy paper numbers.") There were a few other populations out at this time; jelly-stained at-home parents who escaped the tedium of home for the thrill of forty kid-free minutes under the fluorescents once their spouses came home and took over; true workday warriors who had worked late and now - ties loosened, hair coming unfixed - filled their baskets with microwaveable dinner, Ben & Jerry's and margarita mix. But the most salient feature was the army of high school students who take over from the career checkers after dark. I was just happy if I could get them to scan my groceries in between scamming a date to the prom or sucking their teeth about their peers at school or work ("No she ditn't!")
Saturday: Grab bagI'm not very familiar with Saturday, but it seemed to be a more random time than other periods. Mothers of teenagers seemed to kick it old school on Saturdays. Also, some grandparent/grandkid groupings. Those who depend on a jitney to get to and from the market also seemed to enjoy Saturday shopping. No, I don't live in the hood. I live nearthe hood.
Sunday afternoon: J-Dub TimeOK, so not everyone who overdresses for the grocery store on Sunday afternoons is a Jehovah's Witness. They just look like it. Fancy dresses, high heels, suits that stop one notch short of pimp-level. They execute something less than full-scale shopping trips. Too late to be equipping a Sunday dinner, they appear to use the dangerous approach of entering the grocery store without a list or a plan.
Sunday evening: X-Cargo O'ClockOh, the road warriors. Are they on the exit ramp when they realize there's no milk or juice for breakfast? Are they looking forward to home cooking after a weekend sports tournament? Or have they just eaten mom's cooking for an entire weekend, rendering their home grocery store a little bleak? In Pittsburgh, probably the former; everybody's mom lives here. Looking haggard, they're attempting a surgical strike that will allow them to get home to the mail they missed as soon as possible. Don't rush, dears. There's nothing but coupons for the grocery store in that mailbox. But you might want see who's outside picking over the contents of that lovely cartop carrier.


Anne H. said...

Sharp observation, I tip my hat. Your last sentence left me laughing, a little jolt of endorphins I can always use.

Was a little taken aback by the description of the CIC set, since that was always Mama using the cart as a walker, when she could still grocery shop. It's hard to know where to draw the line with this kind of humor...

BTW your blog has become a go-to when I sit down at my iMac. Go Jeff!

JFo said...


My harsh meter was running a little high in the CIC section. It should be my fondest hope to still be grocery shopping when I require assistance to walk. The line you mention probably divides vivid from nasty.


Mike said...

You totally nailed these. Especially the at-home parent who seeks 40 minutes of freedom once the working one returns home. awesome.

Chip said...

I've been known to engage in The Saddest Office Lunch Hour Ever. When I don't bring lunch from home, the salad bar at my local Price Chopper is the best of my quick options. I never stay to eat it at the grocery store, making my experience The Close But Not Quite The Saddest Office Lunch Hour Ever.

Diane said...

Really funny, but because I am getting older I do agree with Anne (Hi Anne) about the not-so-tongue-in-cheek assesment of the CIC group. The rest is spot-on! Did you mention the mom or day who taste test the grapes... ;-)

Lauren Jackson said...

You forgot the 9-11pm shift when Anne goes shopping!

Our Safeway has one morning a week where seniors get a discount and there's a little folding table out with coffee for them. Think how that would concentrate the population.