There’s a time and a place for Costco. And sometimes a trip to Superama is a good place to walk the aisles – particularly if you’re looking for yellow cheese. But given the choice, I pick one of my little neighborhood groceries every time.
There are a lot of things about Mexico that remind me of growing up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1950s and 60s. The cowbells on garbage trucks, the metal swings and slides on playgrounds, the little horses and riding toys that sit in front of stores that kids can ride for a few pesos, the way nearly every person you pass on the street offers a greeting.
But the one thing that takes me back every time is entering one of the little groceries in my neighborhood. It’s like stepping back 50 years and walking into Van’s, the little grocery closest to my house when I was growing up.
It was just two blocks away and, because it required crossing only one alley and no streets, I started going there by myself at about the same time that I started going to kindergarten. With a little change in my pocket, I could buy a pocketful of penny candy or a soft drink in a cold glass bottle.
I could run an errand for my dad and bring home some of baloney that he loved to eat on white bread, or I could take the quarter that he gave me prior to a vacation and buy a whole bag of candy to eat in the car as we travelled down two lane roads to Tennessee and grandparents.
As I grew older and was allowed to cross streets, I discovered other groceries serving other neighborhoods. Soon learning the ones with the best penny candy, an aisle of toys at Christmas, or the only one to carry something called Beanie Bar-B-Q, which I would still buy today if I could ever find it.
There’s something comfortable about little stores that somehow manage to have everything you need in the space of small living room. There’s something even more comfortable in going to a store where they know your name and stock your favorite brand of cookie just because they know you’ll be in to buy them.
There are several little groceries within walking distance of my house these days. But there are two that I frequent the most. Both use little hand held calculators to tally your purchases and neither give receipts. Both have the same person at the counter regardless of the day or time I go in. And both have things that I can’t find in a bigger store like Mega.
Some times it’s a particular brand of cookie. But more often it’s the comfort of a small store that wraps you up in good memories of a simpler time.