I feel that it's my duty as a credible journalist to provide you with fair warning of a startling outbreak that's developing one that could have a pronounced effect on your life, if it hasn't already. The onset arrives innocently as a benign growth, worthy of little attention. Over time it grows and spreads, eventually reaching a point of such size and conspicuity that it can no longer be avoided especially when you receive a Sunday mailing with an unbelievable coupon for two-ply toilet paper.
I imagine that most of you have been to a grocery store lately; in fact, I imagine that most of you live in a house or apartment which has been annexed, either in part or in whole, by a grocery store. There's a very good chance that your guest bathroom is near the frozen meat section. If you thought that a grocery store was intended for groceries, you probably still think that a cell phone is used for "'making calls.' Instead, grocery stores have taken it upon themselves to provide for you, the consumer, any possible good or service that you could want. The various additions have doubtlessly been convenient, except when you need a map to find the cereal aisle.
There appears to exist a mindset among grocery gurus that bigger just isn't big enough. I recently ventured into Wegman's to find a box of Fruit Roll Ups, and by the time I navigated the extensive directions that I had been given ("around the stone-fire hearth, left of the dentist, if you hit the car dealership the used one, not the new one, that's half an hour the other way you've gone to far"), I found that my Fruit Roll Ups were in a different zip code and my cell phone had gone into roam. It was a stark contrast to the trips I remember taking to the A & P with Mom as a youth, wherein I would receive as a reward for not making a scene a new Matchbox car. Nowadays, if I were to accompany Mom to the grocery store and not make a scene, it's possible that I could walk out with a real car. Assuming I could carry it.
Just as in every other industry, technology is playing a pivotal role in the growth of grocers. To support the rigors of supplying an entire city most of which live within the store limits many markets have added automated checkout lines. These machines have proven to be mutually beneficial: consumers no longer bother buying fruit, candy or anything else for which they need to weigh and look up a code, while store employees get to laugh at customers trying to weigh and look up codes. Many store managers have also strategically placed the automated tellers and the complaints they induce in locations that are well out of earshot, such as the handicapped bathroom.
Yet, despite these impressive advances in customer frustration, grocers would be wise to watch their backs. Super-stores such as Walmart and . . . Walmart are making intimidating power moves in their attempt to steal the title of "place you go when you only want to leave the house once a year." Bolstered by cheap everything and buttressed by the involuntary volunteer work of female employees across the nation, Walmart finds itself gnawing at the heels of grocery stores everywhere, as much as one store can gnaw at the heels of another.
Making a similar charge are the bulk discount warehouse stores that are single-handedly increasing SUV sales by carrying ten-square-foot boxes of Cheerios. With membership to these warehouses requiring just $30 and a U-Haul, grocery stores will be hard pressed to compete against the year's-supply of Doritos that BJ's hawks for $3.72. But fear not: it's doubtful that Danny Wegman, Mark Stop "'N' Shop and their produce providing pals will watch their namesakes collapse beneath the pressure. Instead, it would seem that their plan is to keep growing at a pinch so ridiculous that it makes me wonder:
How big will grocery stores get? Though they've been called supermarkets and mega-stores for years, those names seem almost inadequate considering the monumental size of the shops. One suburban Wegman's is so large that, according to a source within the Department of Distinctions, it could be a country. Grocerica, perhaps? Probably not. But rumor has it that there's even a grocery store so big that it has its own citizens. The produce section has varying seasonal climates, the cultural food areas have attendants speaking the native languages and the canned food section precariously situated where it is, back near the poorly-lit seafood counter is dangerous to explore at night. I don't know for sure if any of these suburban legends are true; my exploration of the store stalled when I got lost in the prairie-like parking lot.
And so, the question remains: is there an end in sight? The "'mall' gained popularity by providing a number of goods and services within one location; albeit, a partitioned one. Modern grocery stores and . . . Walmart are taking it a step further by dumping all of those same items into one giant landfill of a store. What comes next? How far will the ambitious arms of grocers reach? Will Americans someday drive affordable Price Chopper-made compact cars? Will children someday attend Piggily Wiggily University, a school known not as much for its competitive curriculum as it is for its comprehensive meal plan? Will that guy ahead of you in the automated checkout ever realize that apples don't have UPC codes? These are the questions we face in this, the manifest destiny era of supermarkets, and it's very possible that no one has the answers.
Though, you can probably find them at a grocery store.