Saturday, May 2, 2015

Maybe it was Just a Bad Dream

Maybe it was Just a Bad Dream

The birds woke me this morning, chattering in the kwanzan cherry tree outside my bedroom window. I would have gone back to sleep, but for the incessant nudging from my feline bed partner.

Just another Saturday morning in Southeast Michigan. A beautiful Spring day to be spent working in the yard, going for a bike ride and then late afternoon grocery shopping, wandering the aisles of my favorite grocery store until I found something fresh and unusual for dinner. And then it hit me.

I won't have too many more Saturdays like that.

Hiller's Markets announced yesterday that they were selling all 7 of their stores to Kroger.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that I spent an inordinate amount of my food budget at this family-owned, Detroit-based supermarket chain.  When you consider there are 2 other stores closer to my house and that I also, like many Hiller's shoppers, shopped at other stores for some basic items, I still spent the majority of my food budget on my weekend visit to Hiller's.

And that's not because it's expensive.  Hiller's prices were competitive on many items...and not so much on others. Sometimes it costs a little more to "buy locally" and I always felt good about sliding my debit card there.  I'll miss the premium meats (hamburger meat ground fresh every day and sourced from their own herd), the unparalleled selection in the deli and best fish and seafood of any grocer in town.

Sorry, Kroger, no matter how much you attempt to up your game, your meats are still mediocre, your chicken isn't what you claim it is, and I wouldn't eat fish from your store if it was free.  Your produce doesn't turn over fast enough for my taste, and I am pretty sure I couldn't find juicy frozen duck breasts, bison meat, rattlesnake and 40 kinds of pickles in your store.

Foodie life as I know it is over. I woke up this morning thinking, "maybe this is all a bad dream."  And I almost believed it until I checked social media this morning.  It's hard to imagine that the closing of a few grocery stores could cause such a media frenzy in any other city. Or rather, I can't imagine any other community so distraught over it.

Indeed, there are bigger problems in the world and right here in our own community than the closing of a grocery store.  But when the announcement was made, my inbox was flooded with emails and there was a steady stream of people stopping by my desk at the office, mostly asking if it was really true. "Say it isn't so," seemed to be a recurring theme.

There's nothing I'd love more than to be able to say it isn't so.  Jim Hiller is a good man, one of the best men I know.  Philanthropic, warm, funny and damn smart. It's my pleasure to consider him a friend, and I worked for him on a free lance basis for a short time. He was generous and fun to work with.  He put his heart and soul into the business, and wanted nothing more than for his stores to thrive and to be able to continue to employ the best people in town.

The Jim I know and love would not have taken this decision lightly, nor would he have sold the stores if it wasn't best for the people in the community, including the 800 or so people he employs here in Oakland and northwestern Wayne counties. This I know for a fact.

Part of me doesn't want to go to Hiller's today. Let it go, move on. Find a new place to shop.

But the way I figure it, I have about 6 more Saturdays in life that I can spend marveling at 30 kinds of extra virgin olive oil.  Six more Saturdays that I can spend wandering aimlessly through a world of food and ingredients that the folks at Kroger have never heard of and can't pronounce.

When those six Saturdays are in my rear view mirror, I'll probably just do what most other grocery shoppers do.  Make a list, run into some boring, pedestrian grocery store, toss everything in my cart, and pay at the U-Scan.  No familiar face greeting me by name.  No new discovery from the produce department in my bags.  No adventure had. Nothing special to talk about.

But I bet my grocery bill will be a few bucks less than it would have been at Hiller's.  Bittersweet savings, this.  And what will I do with that money I save every week?  I'll do what Jim would do....I'll donate it to charity.

Sara Pomish

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Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.