From Shorpy



Why no, I haven’t told fascinating tales of weekend errands in some time. Why is that? Because I’m so absolutely bored with the subject, with the routine, with the same thoughts that appear in my head as I stand in the same spot where I stood last week at the same time: what manner of sausage shall enliven the inevitable pasta on Inevitable Pasta Monday? Which Lean Cuisine lunches shall I have this week - yes, yes, of course the ranchero braised beef with sweet potatoes on Tuesday, that’s a given, but the turkey and apples on Wednesday, or shall we just throw caution to the mad winds of Discord and have that on Thursday, and shift Oval Meat Patty with potatoes to Friday? Live a little!

Do I have enough Scott Bathroom tissue? Yes. Do I have quadruple redundancy in the peanut department? I’ll say. And so on. Shop to replace your primary, even though you have a backup. But before I went shopping on Saturday I realized I was really well-stocked, and needn’t shovel the same old things into the cart this time. So I didn’t.

And consequently forgot dog food, wife’s Green Yogurt, and daughter’s heading-out-the-door-no-time-for-breakfast nutrition bars. These were the things we needed the most.

So on Sunday I went to another store entirely, seeking to break the tedium of Errands. I went back to Rainbow. It had been a while. I stopped going there because it was too depressing, and as I tweeted yesterday (something I say not to elevate the importance of a tweet, but to acknowledge that I am repeating myself) the Rainbow has completed its transition to a Museum of Soviet Retailing.

The level of surliness and unhappiness among the customers was palpable. I was in the corner back by the Shelves of Disappointing Breads, and there was a cart full of groceries someone had left in the middle of the aisle. Blocking the way. Bad situational awareness is endemic in grocery stores. People exist in solipsistic bubbles. Any grocery store. You can stand there for two minutes before they’ll realize that their cart and their corpus have set up a roadblock in the middle of the lane. I saw a guy try to get around the abandoned cart; he muttered “people just leave the damn cart” and shoved it into the shelves, hard.

He’d just had it with people in general and Rainbow shoppers in particular.

Let’s head over to the baked good department, and see what’s available on a Sunday afternoon:



Hmm. Well, perhaps a cake.


Surely there’s lots of fresh artisanal bread.



Let’s top off the trip with a nosegay of nature’s finest harbingers of spring!


Eggs, milk - similarly unreplentished. They had stuff, but when you don’t pile it up the shelves look picked over, and people feel like they’ve come late and got the least. There’s reams of data on the shopper’s experience and expectations, countless psychological studies, I’m sure. The overall impression of a store like this: they don’t care. So you don’t care either.

There’s another element to this, something that’s mystified me for a long time. There are lots of good graphic designers who’d work cheap if given the chance to redesign a brand or a line. College students, recent grads looking for something to put in the portfolio. Throw these guys a decent wad of money, then ask them to redesign a store brand with two guidelines:

1. Make it look as though it’s affordable

2. Make it look beautiful. Or some other word that suggests aesthetic delight. Because this is what Supervalu has for their low-budget items:



Cue the person in the comments saying “Yes, Mr. Out of Touch, that’s exactly what poor people suffer from the most and wish they could escape. Ugly packaging.” Because yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Sure. No one will be Lifted Up if their ice cream box is prettier, but life is better when more things are better looking.

Cub - which is part of the local supermarket giant that includes the Shopper’s Value brand (sold at rival Rainbow, for reasons I don’t quite get) - stratifies its house brands, as Rainbow does. The cheap stuff has the Cub logo, which is an awful 80s-era thing. I don’t even know what the name means. I go there every week. No loyalty whatsoever.

Another local chain: tell me if you think it’s upscale, mid-market, or down-scale?


Go on, I’ll wait while the Jeopardy theme plays.

Another smaller chain:

It’s a great store; it’s my neighborhood favorite, even if the in-store signage is lousy with Papyrus. It replaced an old SuperValu, and there’s a tale: SuperValu was a well-known chain. My mom preferred it. They’re one of the biggest in the country, based right here in the Twin Cities, but they suppressed the brand for other variants, using SuperValu as the corporate identity. I grew up with this logo:



It’s nothing now. I’d give an example, but it’s like almost every other grocery store logo in the country: blunt, ugly, and red.


It took teams of consultants and lots of experts to decide that logos like Piggly Wiggly weren’t going to do it anymore. Someone had to say “the customer has an emotional investment with these things stretching back to childhood, and with the proper tweaking of the ads, signage, and in-store displays, a mood of pleasant familiarity seasoned with a dash of self-aware levity can build on that bond to encourage repeat business and strong brand loyalty. But let’s get rid of it and rebrand all the stores as FoodSmartMart. because that was the last thing I did, and same store sales are up .02%.”

Then there’s this fellow. I have a T-shirt with the Red Owl. I get comments every time I wear it. People loved the owl - one of the few corporate mascots who isn’t smiling, and frankly doesn’t give a damn about smiling, and doesn’t care if you care, either.

Bring those back. Slap that logo all over the place. Go for the Trader Joe’s demographic. Watch the millions roll in.






This weekend I spent some time on a new site - rolled out next Friday to general shrugs of indifference, I suspect - while a movie played on the second screen. “The Gene Krupa Story.” Weak 50s biopic with Sal Mineo. Notable for Krupa’s drumming, of course. It had some inadvertent documentary in its shots of late 1920s New York:



"The Good Earth," eh. Published in 1931, made into a movie in 1937. Top billing for Stepin Fetchit, whose name is synonymous with degrading images of African-Americans. First black actor to get a screen credit. First to make a million dollars - which wasn't hay back then.

Times Square in the heyday of Prohibition!



Except that the building in the middle on the right, the former International Casino, opened as a Bond's Clothiers in 1940.

There were giant human figures flanking the name; later they became Pepsi bottles. In 1957 it looked like this. (Bond / Pepsi building at 1:14.)



A crowd



Minksy's Gaiety. It was just the Gaiety until the legendary bur-lee-que magnate took it over in 1932. The name was familiar to me as a kid because there was a movie out there in grown-up land that had something to do with ladies taking their clothes off. The closing credits song:



The voice sounds like it belongs to an old man, doesn't it? He was 67 or so, and had another 18 years left. He lived long enough to see his name become synonymous with the cliched public conception of the 20s, where clean-cut singers declaimed through a megaphone. One of the things he did towards the end of his career: he opened for the Village People. God rest Rudy Vallee.

Anyway: the movie. Eh. Lots of cameos of fine musicians; Anita O'Day sings at a party. Bobby Troup plays one of yer Dorseys. Red Nichols. There's a mean, cold, calculating dame who wants to steal Gene Krupa away from his girlfriend:




One of those actresses you don't recognize from elsewhere until all of a sudden, click.










Now get this.



Yvonne Craig. Who was . . .




That's right. The two Star Trek green-skinned Orion slave girls were both in the same movie a decade before. The only thing that would be more odd would be to see T'pau, the old Vulcan lady, show up.



Bonus: That's Gavin MacLeod.


Here's the real thing.



Hey! Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed today's entry. There's an update, of course. Tumblr and the Strib Blog in the middle of the day. I'll be discussing the new huge snowfall on the latter, with pictures. See you around!












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