Saturday, August 29, 2009

One of the Last of the Hometown Supermarkets-RIP

Until a week ago, our area had an actual family owned small hometown chain, the Giant (not to be confused with Giant Eagle), which had been operating in the Triple Cities of Upstate NY for some 75 years. It existed in a time warp from the 1950's - even some of the ads looked like they were straight out of the 50's. No "shoppers reward" cards, no bogos (Buy One Get One free) , no doubling of coupons, no gimmicks (their word)...and they were proud of it. Until recent years, they were closed on Sundays. None of their stores were 24-hour. But people went there. They had very loyal customers.

They sold discounted city bus passes (cheaper than what you could buy them from directly from BC Transit). You could pay your bills there (for a fee). Even their most loyal shoppers (and you would be surprised who shopped there) admitted there were certain items they would not buy there due to freshness concerns. The stores were not that clean.

A number of their stores ended up, as neighborhood demographics shifted, in lower income neighborhoods and residents of these neighborhoods depended on the Giant to provide them food at affordable prices.

Their oldest store was demolished in 2000 for a new Binghamton Public Library. I don't think it would hurt anyone's feelings to point out that rumor had it that more drugs were being sold outside the store than food inside the store. The second oldest store, near Binghamton High School, is in another neighborhood that has seen better days - and the store was quite small by today's standards.

Anyway, the local family decided to sell the chain to a new owner, Weis. So what happened even before the changeover was effective? It was revealed that the now oldest store, near Binghamton High, was not part of the deal. It would close a few days before the takeover. Goodbye, low income people having a supermarket. We already have a Binghamton neighborhood without a supermarket since the Grand Union pulled out and advocates have been working since the 1990's to get that neighborhood (which I lived near many years ago) a new market. It sits boarded up now. Just what we need on the edge of downtown Binghamton, another boarded up building. Word is however, no one lost their job in this closing.

The changeover happened over about a 37 hour period (closed 6pm Sunday, reopened 7 am Tuesday), and the new stores opened on August 25. It was an interesting process to watch (full disclosure, I have family members in the supermarket business but none worked for Giant). A lot of bugs still have to be worked out. The forum at the local paper (online) has been quite busy-this is an issue impacting many people in this area. Comments so far: cleaner, fresher, and the prices have been increased-in some cases quite substantially. This is really going to hurt Giant's base clientele.

I may choose to write more about this in the future. Tomorrow is their "grand reopening".

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