Monday, November 4, 2013

Rearrange of the Brain

A new grocery store opened in town last Tuesday. Saturday morning, I checked it out.

It's called "Mariano's". According to a cashier I know who works at Dominicks, the guy who started Mariano's used to be a VP of Operations for Dominicks. When Dominicks was faltering, some 20 years ago, he offered to buy the chain. But there was some kind of falling out, so he went north, to Milwaukee, started a grocery store there and has come back down to the Chicagoland area. Mariano's merged with Roundy's, which is a long-time Wisconsin grocery chain. New reports said Mariano's is looking to open 13 more stores in the Chicagoland area over the next 18 months.

The Wheaton store is built on the site of the old Hubble Middle School. It's right off Roosevelt Road, the main road through Wheaton. Hubble was built in the 1930's and was the only high school in Wheaton for years. When Wheaton's population  grew enough that there were more kids than Hubble could handle, Wheaton North and Wheaton South high schools were built and Wheaton Central, as it was known, was created. Then, the population shrank and the middle high school was turned into a middle school for grades 6-8. There was a city-wide renaming contest and Hubble was selected. It was named after Edwin Hubble, an astronomer who grew up in Wheaton. I spent some time looking for photos of the school. I know I have some, but wasn't able to locate them.

When renovations at Hubble became too costly, the school district built a new Hubble Middle School in the far southwest of the district and the property was vacant for years. The Wheaton Park District bought the gym facilities and, after some contentious board meetings, Mariano's bought the rest of the building and razed it. This is the only part of Hubble remaining.

I feel kind of self-conscious about taking photos inside a business so I don't have any from my first visit. It was a touch confusing as to how to get into the building. They have an abundance of shopping carts even for the numbers of people in attendance at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. The place has been packed by noon in these opening days. It's the "new car smell" of a brand new business. We'll see how busy it is come mid-March.

As with any new place, it was confusing as to where things were. I just wandered. I don't like the size of the fresh fruit and vegetable department or how it's shunted off to the side of the prepared foods section. There was staff all over the store, all smiling, all asking if there was anything I needed. At 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, there were people with food samples in every department. I went in with a list but allowed myself to impulse buy up to the size of my grocery cart and they had an abundance of the small carts I like so well. Once that was full, and I had everything on the list, it was time to leave.

There are two aisles of "foreign" foods. That's where you'll find kosher, Hispanic and Asian offerings. I got a laugh at the "London" section. Tea and biscuits. Come on. England is so much more than that. Once crowds die down, it will be nice to look through what they have at leisure.

I spent an amount comparable, perhaps a few dollars less, than what I would spend at Dominicks. They have pretty much everything I consume, although I couldn't find the Spam. You may laugh or go, "Ewwwww" but I eat Spam and would loathe to have to go to Jewel to get it.

I like the covered areas for cart returns.

This is the size of a parking space so it will hold a lot of carts and there are a lot of them scattered through the parking lot. In a typical year, soaked or snow and ice covered carts are a reality. While this won't stop the carts from getting wet when the rain comes sideways, it will help.

I was impressed by the salad bar. I came home with a giant fruit salad that I ate over the course of the afternoon.

The container is that cardboard that disintegrates when composted. The lid is recyclable plastic. All the fruit looked good and, more importantly, tasted fresh, as if it had been prepared that morning, not cut the night before. It will be interesting to see if, coming in after work produces the same quality in their offerings.

Safeway, who owns Dominicks, is leaving Chicagoland effective January 1st, 2014. Any store not sold by December 31 will be closed. The Dominicks just over the hill from the office won't be sold. There is a Trader Joes and a Jewel within 5 minutes of the office. While I was told this Dominicks is one of the more profitable ones, there is too much competition for someone to want to keep a grocery there. A Fresh Market is opening this month between the office and my house. So many choices. I'll check them out too. Of all my choices, this Fresh Market will be the closest to the house.

So, my first impression of Mariano's is favorable. It will take several visits to get used to where things are. I need to get a frequent buyer's card to take advantage of the sales. Downtown Wheaton, which you can see from the parking lot...

...had long needed a good grocery store. There are condos and sufficient population within just a mile to keep the store solvent. With Dominicks leaving, they have arrived at a good time to woo people like me who won't shop at Jewel even if our lives depend on it, but want a good, full-service, grocery. I have to go back this week. I forgot to add garbage bags to the list. What aisle are they in?

Beverage:  Lady Gray tea


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