By Robert Widmann
My M14A bus pulled up to the light at 8th Avenue and—seated as I was, on the north-facing side—I found myself gazing into the darkened, empty frontage of the former Associated Supermarket. A quick twinge or two shot across my brow—guilt (two heavily laden bags of Trader Joe’s stuff sat beside me on the floor of the bus), and then a feeling of sad frustration. Well, maybe there were three feelings.
Where was that Village I’d moved to 57 years ago as a cub copywriter for the Montgomery Ward Catalog? On my walk to work in a loft building next to the Holland Tunnel entrance, I would pass at least a couple of supermarkets and maybe five or six mini-grocery stores (superettes). All are now gone. There were also three A & Ps in the Village and at least one each of Pioneer, Met Foods, Gristedes, and Nicola, among others.
Where did they go? They seemed so essential to the support of everyday human life that it would be impossible to one day wake up and have them all gone.
Just across 8th Avenue, the CVS in the bank building on the corner of 14th Street had been a revelation when it arrived on the scene—a latter-day successor to The New York Bank for Savings, then a carpet company, and then a fine food emporium. Imagine, in addition to my allergy prescription, I could pick up a can of tuna for 88¢, or, on sale, an eight-ounce jar of Maxwell House Decaf crystals for $2.99, or a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup for $1.50. It was a revelation that could make a retired person such as myself throw his head back and shout to the coffered ceiling and marble pilastered walls, “Wow! I can save money here!” Almost, anyway.
The day of the super drugstore had dawned—CVS, Rite Aid, Duane Reade, Walgreens. The graying of America and the inability of the local neighborhood druggists tot keep up with the vast and ever-changing tide of rules and laws emanating from the government finally did it. And the 88¢ cans of tuna sent out marching orders for the local supermarkets, too.
Bit by bit, well, you know. First, they did away with the in-store circular and prices went up a little. Then they eliminated the online circular for stores in the neighborhood. Then, no more $1.00 off on two cans of soup. So now, as I am ready to consume the last can of 88¢ CVS’ Bumble Bee Solid White Albacore Tuna on my shelf, there are no more sales on grocery items (except designer soups and jams). But there are markdowns for some of the snack/protein bars. At last count, CVS had 112 facings of these, 94 of boxed cereals, eight of spaghetti sauce, and three of spaghetti. I forgot to mention that there is a whole aisle side devoted to bagged candy.
That’s just what we need to live a happy life in our $5,000 per month studio apartments of 2017, no?
The bus lurched to a stop at 8th Avenue and 14th Street and, with bags in hand, I approached the rear door. If I could negotiate the step down and out of the bus, and my arms didn’t ache too much, I would be home in six minutes.