Grocery Store Community Building

I do most of the grocery shopping in my family. Not only do I enjoy choosing fresh produce, but I truly enjoy the cross-cultural exposure which grocery store shopping provides. On a recent shopping trip, I was reminded of how choosing to interact with other shoppers and staff in the grocery store may provide one of the best antidotes to the fear mongering designed to make us afraid of people who are not like us that is so sadly prevalent in our society.

Most of my grocery shopping is done in two stores: the Willy Street Co-op and Woodman’s. My wife and I became members at the Co-op on the first day we moved to Madison in 1985, and we continue to support the cooperative model of governance, the healthy food choices provided there and the ease of shopping at a smaller store. However, as it is not a supermarket, there are many grocery items that one cannot buy at the Co-op and other items are too expensive to buy there since the Co-op does not have the buying power of a large supermarket. Probably due to higher prices on many of its items, the clientele is not as diverse as the community as a whole.

Madison-East-store

Woodman’s, on the other hand, is a very large supermarket, with low prices on most items. I have also shopped there since we moved to Madison in 1985. Over the years, I have noticed a number of interesting developments there.

  • As Madison has become far more culturally diverse, Woodman’s shoppers and employees have reflected that change and people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds both shop and work there.
  • The produce and grocery selection has evolved in response to the cultural diversity of our community to provide a wide array of items to suit cooking from most ethnic backgrounds.
  • Many of the staff working there have been there for over 20 years, indicating that they are treated reasonably well as employees, a hallmark of any workplace that maintains relatively low turnover.

I often run into friends while shopping, some of whom I see often, and others of whom I may not have seen in a long time. These interactions remind me that grocery shopping can truly help build community.

But, more important than meeting friends while shopping is crossing over cultural divisions and interacting with people with whom I do not have a personal relationship, namely staff and other shoppers.

During my last trip to Woodman’s, earlier this week, the man who was bagging my groceries greeted me by saying, “Nice to see you. You sure have been coming here for many years.” I told him that I had been shopping there for 32 years, and asked him how long he had been working there. He told me he had worked at Woodman’s for 20 years! I noticed that he had an accent, and in my effort to cross a cultural divide, I asked him where his accent was from. He told me he was from The Gambia, a country in West Africa. That gave me the opportunity to let him know that I host the PanAfrica Radio Show on our local listener sponsored community radio station WORT. He was pleasantly surprised to meet the host of a show that he listens to and enjoys and he promised to listen to my upcoming show Saturday afternoon.

As I was walking out of the grocery store, a shopper who must have overheard my conversation with the bagger asked me if I hosted a show on WORT and when I told her that I did, she told me that her husband was the Treasurer on the Board of Directors. These unanticipated connections reminded me of the value of both interacting with strangers at the grocery store, and the community building ability of community radio.

Perhaps the next time you go to the grocery store, my story will inspire you to have a personal interaction with a shopper or employee whom you do not know, crossing a divide that may help you and that person bring our world a little bit closer together.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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