Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
When the movie starts, it is always with an overhead shot of an area of mass destruction, barren and brown. The camera pulls back to reveal something ominous, a massive mound of earth that appears ready to birth some monstrous creature. The Army general whispers, "Oh, my God." The smart-mouthed scientist deadpans, "This can't be good."
This is roughly the feeling I get every time I drive past the construction site of the new Martin's in Midlothian.
At 74,000 square feet, it will almost double the size of the Little-Ukrop's-That-Could, which will vacate the space it has occupied in Sycamore Square since 1975. So, yay for progress! and all that, but this giant new addition of Giant Food Stores, which opens later this year, is being plopped down directly across the street from the large Kroger I get lost in at least twice a month.
In case you hadn't noticed, grocery stores have gotten big.
They have gotten so big that it's possible to pick up both frozen waffles and a 32-inch flatscreen at the same time. That's nothing new, of course, and we have Walmart to thank or to blame for that, depending on your point of view. Somehow it didn't irk me as much when the big-box stores started adding whole grocery sections as it does now that grocery stores are adding baby apparel and recliners.
Maybe it's because even as the roof seems to get bigger, there is no more selection of the items I want under it. When Ukrop's became Martin's, the cereal aisle suddenly looked like the North Korean army, overwhelming in quantity and precision. But wait. Something's missing: the Golden Grahams. Gone forever. Kroger carries Golden Grahams, but not my butter. They have Land o' Lakes in sticks and in tubs with canola oil, but not always regular Land o' Lakes butter in a tub. Food Lion carries Land o' Lakes in a tub but doesn't carry … . You see my point.
So I trudge through my big Kroger every week, getting what I can, but not always what I want, and often getting lost in the maze of half-aisles and center causeways and the housewares section. If someone were watching me from above, I imagine I'd look just like a rat winding through a labyrinth in search of the cheese — or, in this case, the dairy section. "Why is she doubling back? She's already been down that aisle! No, turn left. Left!"
But my neighborhood Kroger looks like a quaint country store compared to the 123,000-square-foot behemoth at the old Cloverleaf Mall site. Last summer, we carefully tagged the children like deer and went over there to buy patio furniture.
You could buy rugs, Hungry Man dinners, lamps, Benadryl, baby clothes, ground beef, TVs, Chex Mix, jewelry, birthday cakes, cellphones, tortillas and a home equity line. Next to Hobby Lobby, it is the weirdest store I've ever been in. It felt like a Kroger stuffed inside a Walmart stuffed inside
a Costco. It was the turducken of stores.
Maybe I'm the only one bothered by the Incredible Hulking of our grocery stores. Clearly I'm in the minority if this is "the trend," as two more of these expansive Kroger Marketplaces are coming to Staples Mill Road and Mechanicsville. People must like this. Or do they?
More and more I hear people saying, "I buy my meat here, my produce there, my organic stuff over there … ." Indeed, there is at least some fraction of us that still wants the neighborhood store with the butcher shop on the corner and the deli across the street. But until the pendulum swings back, you will find me wandering the maze of the big Kroger or the bigger Martin's — and if you do, would you be so kind as to nudge me toward the dairy section and help me find the cheese?