Those of you who live in Sao Paulo may know – the grocery store Pão de Açúar sucks. Not only have I periodically brought home items that turned out to be moldy, and purchased a magazine the other day only to find out it was more than 18 months old, but the place is dirty and the people who work there are most often rude.
Today I went to pick up a few items and got in the express line, in which you are limited to 15 items. There was only two of in line, and I noticed the other woman, ahead of me, staring at my basket. Whatever. Maybe she was hungry. But then, when she got to the checkout person, I got the impression that she was “telling on me” to one of the four people working in the express line. It turned out she was. Since I buy as little as possible there, I hadn’t bothered to count my items that sat in one of those mini-carts. But it dawned on me that the woman ahead of me HAD BEEN counting my items. So one of the FOUR people, the girl who checked out this citizen of justice, waved me down from her register and suggested that I remove myself from the express area. I was the only person in line.
So I did what any mature adult would do – a began to chuck items out of my basket (5 items at max) until I got to 15. And then I stared her down. Ok, not one of my best moments, but I’d had it with Pão de Açúcar.
The girl next to her, who had no idea what was happening, waved me over to check me out. I promptly asked her co-worker, the one who called me out, her name – which was Dayse. I explained to Dayse that it was no problem, I’ll buy less here and more somewhere else. The girl who was checking me out then noticed my pile of discarded items (some on the floor) and asked if I wanted her to pass them. I then explained the rule of 15 to my checkout girl.
Sure, I get it, rules are rules. But there was no one but me in line. Did everyone want to go on break? And this is Brazil for goodness sake – rules are being broken all around me with much more serious consequences. Personally, I think it was just laziness – plus the pressure from this strange other woman customer who was outraged at potential unfairness of my speedy purchase. I mean, where am I – Switzerland?
When we were living in Manhattan, we had a grocery store a block down from our building called Gristedes. The store cornered the market of our neighborhood – there really wasn’t another full-service grocery store close by. It was the same thing – things were dirty, you’d bring your items home only to find mold and the employees were out-of-this-world rude. The store was part of a NYC chain. All their stores were disgusting. But there were few alternatives.
Until Whole Foods came along. The day a Whole Foods opened up in our neighborhood, my entire life felt complete. Yes, they were more expensive. Yes it was farther than Gristedes. But they delivered! Then, Trader Joe’s hit Union Square and all was right in Manhattan.
Well guess who was the first to cry about the perils of small business vs big corporation. Yep, Gristedes. They gave interview upon interview of how a big, bad Whole Foods was going to shut down their iconic New York family business. Meanwhile, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offered fresh food and friendly staff in a well-lit, clean environment. And in the case of Whole Food, people in NYC were more than happy to pay for quality and experience.
The grocery market of Sao Paulo is primed for some new competition. When it happens that a company can deliver a chain of food stores that offer good quality and a good experience, even if it is at a slightly higher price, I know who is going to be surprised.