Service of Belonging: New Places to Meet

March 19th, 2018

Categories: Food, Supermarket

Photo: turkishtravelblog.com

Every country, except ours, seemed to have unofficial local gathering spots for some citizens—usually men. In Turkey there were chi shops where men dropped in for tea and gossip; in France, the local bistro was a place to grab a quick glass of wine even in the morning and learn the latest and English and Irish pubs were places in towns and neighborhoods for a cup of Guinness and small talk.

Years ago in NYC, Saturday was the day for singles to meet at Bloomingdale’s, not to buy clothing, furniture or housewares but to meet the next love interest.

New gathering space at Adams in Poughkeepsie

Now supermarkets are filling the bill as a place to meet and greet the neighbors and hang out. In order to distinguish themselves from the burgeoning food delivery businesses–Wal*Mart has joined Amazon.com in home delivery–and meal kits, some have installed tables for special interest groups to meet weekly. Anne Marie Chaker in “Finding Love in the Frozen Food Aisle,” wrote: “grocery stores are making a calculation that customers will stay, shop longer and come back more often.”

An Oregon chain added sofas, fireplaces, seating areas and food services. One in North Carolina created a village concept adding shops around the perimeter and a communal table in the middle where every Friday a group of crafters meets and bingo games take place at other times.

“ ‘There is little money to be made directly from people using a store as a place to hang out,’ says Deborah Weinswig, chief executive of Coresight Research, a retail think tank, who says the benefit may be in a ‘halo effect,’ where shoppers develop a warm perception of a brand.” Chaker reported that one shopper increased his visits from twice a week to daily. Retired, he works two hours on his novel in his supermarket’s seating area, sipping their coffee and munching a muffin. Meanwhile he’s met people from other parts of town.

Photo: groupon.com

A Colorado market owner “says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic. ‘Sure, we could put more aisles in and could pack more product, but then you lose the social hub of community,’ he says.

Tastings with enthusiastic attendees who clog aisles make it tough for hardcore shoppers in a rush to get their chore done and get out. For others, according to Chaker, they’ve found love in those very aisles. Now married, one couple danced in the lunch area when they heard a favorite song.

Do you see a future for supermarkets as America’s answer to chi houses, bistros and pubs? Do you think it’s a concept that might really catch on for those who dislike the bar scene? Will it save supermarkets? What are the best gathering spots in your life?

Photo: alamy.com

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11 Responses to “Service of Belonging: New Places to Meet”

  1. Deborah Brown Said:

    Not on the upper west side of Manhattan! Unless love strikes you while standing in the “speed” line at Fairway that extends to the sidewalk; or waiting in line to get into Trader Joe’s once they let out 10 shoppers and let 10 in. Or waiting for your turn at Zabar’s at the fish counter. Since everyone seems to be on their phones, texting and chatting, I think one has a better chance of hooking up choosing one of the apps out there!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debby,

    I can hardly type because I’m giggling so hard. New York is a different animal in so many ways. The stores are so jammed–take the wonderful Trader Joe’s on either 14th Street or 32nd and Second on the East Side. People waiting to pay line up in the aisles. If any of the stores took an inch to make room for schmoozing and even a card table there would be riots. Real estate is so expensive. New Yorkers are so often racing to another place and they squeeze in food shopping in the corners of their lives. However, I wonder what would happen if a store in a borough that had more room at less expensive cost did this as an experiment….New Yorkers can fool you.

    Waiting in line at Trader Joe’s I don’t speak with anyone unless one of us wants to race out of line to get something and then we ask the other person to save the spot. And as I duck in usually during the work day at lunch time I’m also glued to the phone in case info I need comes in.

  3. JBS Said:

    Supermarkets in the Twin Cities have rooms that can be reserved for meetings. I’ve been to several held in this area and the rooms are quite nice. I’m sure that they do this knowing that people will order food and drink prior to attending these meetings and shop for groceries after their meetings.

  4. Kathleen Said:

    Debby Is so right. NYC supermarkets don’t have any room to gather. But in suburbia and smaller cities some supermarkets have cafes which encourage people to meet. Again, in less crowded environments, some McDonalds encourage seniors to meet for coffee and chat. And Barnes & Nobles in some areas have set up cafes which would encourage interaction. Space, cost and ambiance obviously are key concerns. But if the supermarket or other establishment can get something out of it, more gathering places might spring up.

  5. Protius Said:

    I suppose it depends on how you look at the subject, but I’ve always thought of Americans, from the Bushs’ Skull and Bones to Ralph Kramden’s and Ed Norton’s Raccoon Lodge, being the greatest joiners of all time. I surmised that this was in no small part because of the diverse makeup of our population, and our universal need for social acceptance, for “belonging.” I have never seen any harm in it.

    If people are now more comfortable meeting at a chain store branch, more power to them. Personally, should I feel the need; I’d prefer to drop into the neighborhood pub where there are always two or three of the regulars having a beer. Besides, I’m staunchly opposed to the monopolistic intentions of all big corporations and avoid patronizing their outlets wherever possible.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Kathleen,

    I like the idea of places with room to share with locals especially during periods in which not many are using the space anyway. Makes perfect sense. May it help businesses stay afloat. With so many tanking, and other jobs disappearing because of technology, I worry.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    I included a photo I took in Adams, a “chain” of four stores in and around Dutchess county, NY. The store already has a coffee shop but the new space could be a gathering spot for local book and craft clubs as libraries may not have as many hours in which to share their spaces and they may not be permitted to have events that don’t relate to books and/or films [as they rent DVDs as well].

    I like to see what I’m buying for one thing; to learn about new products which is easier to do in person especially if there are tastings. Amazon and Wal*Mart can’t offer samples of freshly baked goods for the online shopper. Online shopping is best for commodities.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    I’ve been to some humongous supermarkets outside of NY where chopping off a bunch of space for other uses than merchandising products for sale would be simple to do. As you can see from comments here, this isn’t possible in NYC.

    In addition, supermarkets are usually located in places convenient for locals. It all makes sense.

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    I think the ideas you describe for supermarkets as social centers are pleasant and positive. In Massachusetts my beloved Market Basket has a room near their principal entrance with tables, utensils, napkins, water,. milk cream, and condiments. There are several TV monitors. Off of that room are restrooms in addition to ones located in the rear of the store. There are counters with custom prepared eat-in or take out foods as well as ones that have such food already prepared. There is also a convenient counter for soft drinks, coffees, ice and pastries that leads into the common. Nothing is fancy or elaborate, but the windows are huge and look outdoors and it is maintained well.

    I found it very funny and pleasant twice to make an appointment for coffee with a friend I ran into shopping there and another one who called me while I was shopping and said she would meet me there. It certainly was not a chic European cafe or a Sant Ambroeus but each time we sat comfortably munching and chatting away as if it was.

    I think it is a very intelligent concept to offer tables and amenities and an even minimal sense of hospitality. It does make the shopping experience more pleasant and more social and does create a store loyalty. Some other markets such as Wegman’s and Whole Foods also provide separate, but similar areas. Even a crowded market can benefit from a nook where customers can partake of what they are buying. If the socialization reaches beyond immediate food consumption it surely can’t hurt.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    That you find Market Basket’s space devoted to grabbing a bite, meeting and chatting with friends a welcoming spot is a testament to the grocery store. Good for them! My bet is that I’d prefer it to many a place with high prices and unctuous smiling sycophant wait staff.

    I’ve never been to a Wegman’s but hear its excellent. Not as fond of Whole Foods as most though I noticed that even in Manhattan on east 57th Street they have a spot to sit and have coffee.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    Not everyone likes to order via Amazon. What happens when the designated shopper has no idea on how to select produce? Over and above that many people like to shop, so supermarkets aren’t dead yet, and possibly not even threatened. The defunct A&P and existing Shoprite have had home shopping services for years. It’s Shoprite’s Pea Pod in the Mount Kisco/ Bedford Hills area, and undoubtedly other local stores will follow suit if they haven’t already.

    As to the concept of using such places to meet & greet, who knows? It might work. We’ll never know if no one launches the experiment!

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