Wednesday, July 15, 2009


When my friend JC's father died in March, she said she and her family would have to get used to the "new normal." Her dad had been sick with cancer for a couple of years, and I suspect each and every day she and her family had to adjust to the 'new normal.'

Almost five years ago, my dad had a stroke, and since then, I, too, have had to adjust to the new normal. For it changed every couple of months.

When I lost my day job almost four years ago, I started taking my dad grocery shopping. Since he retired more than two decades ago, he became the main shopper for himself and my mom. At first, he could still walk pretty good. He would push his cart up and down the aisles of our local (small) grocery store and pretty much follow his list. We'd go to the local (Mt. Read) Wegmans, which was a lot smaller than most of their other stores--and was perfect for a lot of elderly people in the area.

Wegmans logo Then Wegmans decided to upgrade and demolish the old store. We were banished to the Britton Road store during the rebuilding, which was bigger and harder for dad to navigate. But, somehow we learned where things were and saw many of the same Mt. Read employees working there. And half-way through the rebuilding, we switched to the Latta Road store, and saw an equal amount of familiar faces there, too. (Not one of their employees lost their jobs during that time. Is Wegmans a great company (for keeping their employees during the LONG refit) or what?)

Mt. Read When the new Mt Read store opened, it was apparent that dad would never be able to navigate it with a regular cart--it was so huge. So, reluctantly, he agreed to use the motorized shopping carts. We soon developed a new routine. I could park in the loading zone, get a cart, bring it to the car, and he would climb onboard and proceed to the produce department while I parked the car. By then, I was handling his list. I even transferred it to a spreadsheet, and my mom and I would go over it before dad and I would shop. I got to know more about their eating habits than my own. Did they need more OJ? Raisin cinnamon bread? How about yogurt? Bagels? Stir-fry frozen veggies? Dog biscuits?

We started out shopping on Friday afternoons, but learned that Tuesday mornings were slower, less people--lots less traffic and waiting in the check-out line--and you didn't have to wait for an unoccupied, handicapped, motorized shopping cart, either.

I'd forge ahead and dad would slowly follow in my wake. (Soon after opening the Mt. Read store, they changed the cart speed from zippy to tortoise speed. Bah--humbug!) We'd make our way from produce to the bread section, the meat dept. to the organic section where they offered free samples of bloody-awful teas. (One of the employees got to recognize Dad and would say: "Is it tea time?" and he would answer, "Yes!") Then it was on to Dairy--then to household aisle to pick up items like cling wrap and paper towel, then the frozen veg section, to the dog and cat aisle. And on and on.

C.Bookmark No stripe For a couple of weeks in February, we checked out the book section, and low an behold they had my 2nd Booktown Mystery, BOOKMARKED FOR DEATH. Dad was really proud to see it there. But it only lasted a few weeks and when the four copies there sold out, they never restocked (Grrrrrr!)

In June, Dad went for treatments to inject artificial cartilage in his knees, so I went shopping alone. And then he got sick and ended up in the hospital. So that's why I cried yesterday as I did the shopping. We had become a fixture on Tuesdays. The girls in the pharmacy knew us. The ladies at the registers knew us. "Where's your Dad?" they asked, and yesterday, when our favorite pharmacy lady asked the same question, I burst into tears. She immediately came up with a fistful of tissues. She knew my dad. He'd been her customer for nearly seven years--two years before he had his stoke. She seemed just as heartbroken as I when I told her what had happened to him.

You'd think that a fairly big grocery chain would be pretty impersonal, but not my local Wegmans store. When I shop there, I know so many of the workers, they have come to be like close acquaintances.

Every week the new normal changes, but I feel like at least at this one store, there's some kind of ongoing stability. (Except they keep rearranging the bread section. Stop that, Wegmans!)

Sadly, that kind of personal service is lacking these days for most businesses. There's a reason Wegmans remains in the top 10 American businesses. They treat their employees well, and their employees treat their customers just as well.

Thumbs up May they continue to dominate the top 10 American businesses, because they employ the best people. I wish all firms would adopt their practices.