How Giant Food Set My Standard for Grocery Stores

Although Giant Food stores were bought by a foreign corporation around the turn of the century, and their quality deteriorated, the standard by which I’ve judged grocery stores all my life was set by Mr. Cohen’s Bethesda-based Giant store chain in the early 1980s.  And here’s a list of the things I miss:

  1. Local produce. (Though most of Mr. Cohen’s Giant stores contained their own on-site bakery they also stocked Columbia Union College Bakery bread. Likewise Rock Creek soda pop, Barcelona nuts back when those were processed in Takoma Park, and corn on the cob freshly picked in upper Montgomery County.)
  1. The serious bulk-foods aisle, including brown and wild rice, flour, oats, dry beans, even spices, as well as nuts, candy, and crackers.
  1. Wide selection of vegetarian, kosher, and special-diet-friendly convenience foods, including anything with the Giant brand on it. (Giant Food store brands really used to be made by the store, with pride, rather than being “factory seconds.” And although the store sold all kinds of meat packed elsewhere, all Giant brand food used to be kosher.)
  1. Neighborhood notice boards.
  1. School sponsorship programs.
  1. Clean stores, with sparkling public restrooms.
  1. Polite staff…Giant did allow cashiers to speak before they were spoken to, but required them to shut up and watch what they were doing while ringing up purchases, which displayed prominently on a nice simple readable computer screen. (There was also a policy that, if the scanned price didn’t match the shelf price, the item was free with no questions asked, which should be required by law in any store that uses bar-code scanners.)
  1. Best prices in town, even when the quality of the merchandise was significantly better.
  1. No attempt to puff up fresh produce by keeping it soaking in water all day. The stores just stocked fresh produce. (One thing I didn’t like about Giant in its local-and-excellent period was that they ruthlessly sent any produce that was starting to deteriorate to the landfill, rather than letting inner-city missions haul it away.)
  1. Soup and salad bar with the soups cooked and the vegetables cleaned on site as needed, thus reducing the need for preservatives. Notably, chili soup that wasn’t watered down in the first place and so didn’t have to be re-thickened with flour, and wasn’t canned before being sold and so didn’t need sugar.
  1. If piped-in sound was noticeable,  it was only instrumental music and/or urgent announcements. (Lost children, parked cars with lights left on, and scattered car pools are urgent. Sales are not urgent.)
  1. Very little visual or auditory “clutter.” Storekeepers must fight the temptation to block aisles with extra displays or put racks too close together. Noisy, messy stores bring out delinquent tendencies in quiet children. Quiet, orderly stores soothe the inner beasts of stressed-out, grumpy adults.
  1. Help everyone save money by operating primarily on a cash basis. If the store processes checks or electronic transactions, it should route them through separate checkout lines.
  1. Keep employees either working a cash register or scrubbing the floors and bathrooms, and encourage people to bag their own groceries.
  1. If you consistently keep prices low, you don’t need to stuff ad sheets into the newspapers. If you do spend money on ad sheets, however,note that (1) slick paper doesn’t burn or recycle well and is so annoying that it may motivate people not to subscribe to the newspaper, and (2) simple, single-fold ad sheets are more likely to be read than elaborate origami constructions.

Groceries photographed by jeltovski, :


4 thoughts on “How Giant Food Set My Standard for Grocery Stores”

  1. Sounds like a good hometown store. We have one that has been in business like this for 40 or 50 years but their prices have went sky high. I used to shop there weekly when I took my dad for food.

    1. Giant started out as “hometown” in Bethesda, Maryland, then spread as far as Pittsburgh, then went corporate and became less excellent and stopped spreading. The chain is still doing well on the East Coast though.

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