Albany Journal – 7/14/12

Albany has plenty of places where one can do his or her grocery shopping.  Just beyond where I live, only a couple of blocks away, is the local Price Chopper.  Some of us use the title of “Price Gouger” to describe this place, as not too many people in the area ever get out of the area due to being stranded in the city of Albany without a car.  Price Chopper, then, is the main grocery store, which is a level higher than the local gas station convience shops.   To swing the other way with the healthy tide, there is a place called “Honest Weight Food Co-op” which sells all organic food – similar to “Trader Joe’s” or “Whole Foods” in the wealthy suburbs.  Usually, food like this takes a while to appear in our wonderful ghetto, but “Honest Weight” is also an unsatisfactory pick, mainly due to the skyrocketing prices of organic foods around the state of New York.  But if one is of just a class ahead of the poverty line, one can go to “Honest Weight” and have a positive experience, at least for eating healthy food.  How organic foods became more expensive than the stuff they usually sell in the supermarkets, I have no idea.  Nevertheless, we now have “Honest Weight” with an unhealthy dose of Price Chopper within city limits.  One needs to venture outside of the city into the suburbs of Albany and Colonie to find the exceptional food stores.

“Hannaford” is one such food store that competes with the Price Chopper.  There are no strings attached to its low food prices.  There are no gimicks, like cutting coupons or saving on gasoline at the local Sunoco with every purchase.  There is also no need for a frequent shopper card.  You head into the Hannaford knowing that the prices are already the lowest they can make them – and they do have a good organic food section right in the store.  I began frequenting the Hannaford quite some time ago, mainly because they had yogurt-covered almonds and peanut clusters in its bins that aren’t monitored by anyone in the store – save for the ceiling security cameras.  I would normally take a handful in secret, as that made the shopping experience much better and tastier even.

Beyond the Hannaford, one can travel a long way to Crossgates Mall and shop at the Wal-Mart super store.  Their prices are very cheap, as I believe they manufacture and ship their inventories from Mexico and China, and they are able to strategically deal with food producers for the lowest wholesale prices, which is passed on to the shoppers.  The main problem with Wal-Mart is that the drive there is much too far away to pay a simple visit.  Believe me, once one is stuck within the perimeter of Albany, one needs a lot of luck to get out of Albany.  The second problem is that Wal-Mart doesn’t offer too much selection as far as name brands and diversity of its products as some of the other food stores have.  Wal-Mart has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get mentality, as the food that they stock comes directly from wholesalers they have dealt with before.  When walking into the store, one can easily tell that this place has the cheapest prices around, but their brand-named products need some diversity.  I used to shop at Wal-Mart quite a bit just to get a break from the Price Chopper.  I was very happy with my time there, but then I found Hannaford – which is open 24 hours, and so I started shopping there on a more regular basis.

But all of these stores are clearly not as new, and relatively lower-priced diverse in their product line as the Shop-Rite that they just built on Central Avenue, which is close enough to where I live.  The competition between Price Chopper and Hannaford had often been really fierce, but this new addition of a food market near the glow of the Hannford sign, makes the shopping experience even more compelling.  Shop-Rite is easily the best food shopping I’ve experienced in some time, and with renewed competition in the city, one can find the good name brands with the lowest prices that actually compete with the other grocery stores  for the shopper’s business.  The place is brand new, and today, in this searing heat, the place was very crowded, and all of its 18 checkout lanes were backed up.

What I did discover there, as I ruminated all the way to the final checkout counter, was that our capitalist society does provide so much diversity and lower prices – if politics doesn’t stop it first.  The dizzying array of brands and the competing prices for customers, are probably one of the chief benefits of a capitalist society.  And Congress and the President can regulate this competition by ensuring that more stores are permitted to enter the free market without someone high on the totem pole snuffing it out for their own benefit.  But this doesn’t mean that a capitalist society is good for other countries at all.  In a socialist society, the government would most likely process the food in a single factory and sell it at the same low-price in every grocery store that has some kind of regulatory permit.  This works somehow, because everyone pays the same price and everyone is treated the same – actually, everyone is in the same “equality” boat, so to speak, and so the poor always have a place to go to buy cheap mayonnaise, let’s say, or any other product.  It is regulated and controlled, and whatever revenues there are go right back to the factory, or if not the factory, then to the military most likely.  But let’s say if America were to interfere with some of the poor countries – like India and Bangladesh, or Somalia?  I would say that America would have a very easy time of it, as the US has been a capitalist soceity from the get-go, and there will always be the drive to open new markets for those who already have the purchasing power to be producers in some of the poorest marketplaces in the world.  So the capitalist society would really enslave the Third World, which socialism puts things on a more even keel, as they use taxes to balance the playing field between rich and poor.

So I was thinking about these things while I did my shopping.  Total nonsense my thinking was, I agree.  But the new Shop-Rite had so many different brands, and even foods that demanded indoor chefs – an Asian food market, a large bakery, long rows of produce, fish and meat like you wouldn’t believe – all of this for a fair price with a Shop-Rite coupon I received in the mail.  I’ll probably end up shopping there from now on, as I have three coupons left, but when I need a taste of those yogurt-covered almonds that I pilfer from the containers,  I guess I’ll head back to Hannafords, and if I don’t feel like driving anywhere, you’ll find me at the Price Chopper saving some money on gasoline.

Harvey Havel is the author of five novels. This past spring, Stories from the Fall of the Empire, his sixth book and his first collection of short stories, was recently released by Publish America. Later this summer, Two Tickets to Memphis, his sixth novel, is forthcoming from Publish America as well. Havel has previously taught Writing at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey and also at SUNY Albany and the College of St. Rose, both in Albany, New York. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1971, Havel now resides full time in Albany, New York.