The grocery store where I work is a very special place.
The heart and soul of our store is the healthy groceries. A week ago, a customer said to me, “We drive a long ways to shop here. Our local grocery store abuses us with the produce they expect us to settle for. Here the produce is all so beautiful.”
It’s got most of the downsides of other human and corporate systems. Sometimes management make decisions or enforce policies that I wish they wouldn’t. Sometimes it seems like the bottom line upstages human needs in unfortunate ways. Sometimes people feel unfairly treated by their supervisors. Sometimes coworkers don’t get along, feel that the other is not pulling their weight, etc.
But all this happens here a lot less than most other places I have worked. Much more, it looks to me like management has their heads on straight, support workers from the top of the store on down, are willing to pitch in and do whatever needs to get done – including cashiering and bagging groceries. (I’ve had the store manager bag groceries for customers I am working with.) Most coworkers like each other. I don’t have as much data about other departments, but in my “front end” department (cashiers, juice bar, “floaters” who cashier/clean the store/round up carts) people generally get along really great and have a lot of fun with each other.
Grocery store love. Tom is a great grocery guy (keeping the shelves stocked). He also was my roommate until a couple of months ago. Marta is a dancing friend to both of us. Not all store hugs are quite this go-for-it, but there are plenty of them.
And then there are the wonderful customers. OK, not all of them are wonderful, but an extraordinarily high percent of our customers range from good people to amazing/fascinating/totally cool. They are willing to invest money in healthy eating. They tend – more than the average bear – to take personal responsibility for their lives, to be progressive and creative and out of the box, to be into personal and spiritual growth.
Great customers and great kids, well parented – it’s a real perk of this job to get to be around such beauty and wonderful energy.
And they like each other. They run into friends, hug, erupt in high spirits – and have great conversations with people they have just met in the checkout line. One day, as two friends were excitedly rediscovering each other in my line, I said, “Wow, you two are really having fun!” One of them said, “If you can’t have fun at <this store>, where can you have fun?” That was a great little moment and for me captured some of the vibe of this place.
One of my customers occupied himself while waiting for his turn by decorating his bag of flour with his kiwis. It was an absolute delight to turn and be greeted with this bouquet. This stuff goes on all the time around here.
I have somewhere (I really hope I find it again) a little button that came down from the corporate office (marketing, it must have been) that says, “Keep <my store> weird.” This wonderful little play on one of Asheville’s favorite mantras, “Keep Asheville weird”, again captured some of what makes our store special for me. Our store is kind of weird. Staff are eccentric, creative, out of the box – lots of artists, musicians, writers and generally creative souls. People with whom you can have really cool conversations. Our customers likewise are really interesting. And this button came from corporate! How cool is that?!
The produce people take a lot of pride in what they sell. I was talking with Kristie about this blog, then asked her “What’s your art form?” – pretty confident that I would hear something interesting. “She didn’t miss a beat: I crochet hats and scarves – and I make custom-designed hula-hoops.” Later that day, I ordered hats and scarves for me and my best buddy Monty – and one hula hoop for me and one for a Christmas gift. A few days later, I realized that I had been manic when I committed to all that expense – and reneged on the hula hoops. Kristie understood – and is excited about the hats and scarves.
I could go on about all this more than is strategic for a blog post – and may (probably) weave more of this stuff into future posts. But I want first to mention one final aspect of – for me – my store’s coolness, and that is the support I’m getting for this blog. This is not a corporate blog: it’s a little eccentric, left of center. It’s by and about a guy who is very out about being bipolar – and frequently writes about it.
And my boss really loves it! She told me to put something about it in our front end logbook (done – and people are reading the post I put in there). She told me to put something by the time clock, where all staff can see it. (I will put something up there.) She encouraged me to talk to customers about it. I think that honestly is a strategic move, because this blog can support a customer’s relationship to the store – but I worried that I might get in trouble for this. And here my boss is encouraging me to do it! Very cool.
So cool store, cool merchandise, cool staff, cool customers – and I honestly think this blog is supporting this community that embraces all that.