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These are Peruvian avocaodos. Native to Central America, Mexico and the West Indies, proof of this fruit has been found dating back as early as 291 B.C. in Mayan records and Aztec picture writing.

Bad Publixity

Brien Engel on special assignment for BigSofa

Date: Fri, 04 Jun 1999 19:58:49 -0400

At 7:00 AM Thursday after two months of slowly constructing itself skyward and outward admist the ambivalence of rush-hour drivers, the new Publix at Shamrock Plaza opened it's doors. Designed to give the Lawrenceville Highway Cub Foods a run for it plus further Publix's aim to steal Georgia from the Kroger company, the store promises much in it's 'getting to know us' phase. A miniature hot air balloon, countdown-to-opening signs, banners, etc., have graced the side of North Druid Hills road for a little over a week. Well!

The familiar green logo against white granite greeted me as I pulled into the lot and sought parking space. Surprisingly I found it very quickly, and so hurried into the infant supermarket to see what delights awaited.

The corner entranceway is designed to gently 'air lock' shoppers and baskets from the store and the lot, but I found it lacking in size. Certainly they could have eliminated it in favor of more space in the store, and this may prove to be a bottle-neck issue on busy days. Opening day foot-traffic notwithstanding, I was not ergonomically impressed with the foyer.

Quickly my attention turned to the green clad 'friendly customer relations representative' greeting me in the store proper. I was given a store map (very practical gift) and pull-out coupon sheet, a hello and welcome, and a nice smile. The gentleman seemed well cast and was quite genuine as he schmoozed with the crowds going in and out. I could tell his job was grating him a little though, so I hope he was one of a few who could spell each other. The coupons proved to be quite uninteresting, and I would wager give little more than subtle reinforcement that Publix is nice, but not THAT nice, in the savings department.

After learning the store on the map I gave it back to the verdant vested concierge and went off to explore.

Shoppers seemed split between the wandering, wondering, would-be-patron/ explorers like myself and the 'snatchers', eyes ahead and all business, scratching items off their lists as they purposefully slow-trotted and snatched from shelves. Of course, there were plenty of Publix green people as well, buzzing about during opening day.

My first broad impression of the interior store design was not positive. Low ceilings, white gridwork, white sodium lighting and thin aisle space give the shopping area a claustrophobic and uptight feeling. To contrast the spacious Kroger esthetic and yes, even the N. Decatur A&P (god rest it's soul), a conscious attempt may have been made to mimic the now dated 'cramp modern' style of a European mall 'Lebensmittel' for example, but instead broadcasts a tired and cynical schaadenfreud. Low hanging white trusswork and boxiness may be in the plan to 'euroize' the shopping experience, but the result reads as a pompous apology--as if to say 'we want to cram this place full of your goodies so of course you'll forgive us.' Most importantly (again, despite opening day crowds) one is forced to adopt hyper-lateral vision that only a lab rat would forgive. If for no other reason than in knowing one will not exit back out into a Koln or Paris multilevel mall but rather back outside to the retrofitted and space-wasteful Shamrock Plaza, the general design esthetic fans like an overweight and overpaid DH. Overwhelming crowds only reinforced the effect for me on opening day.

The standard midsize plan of left-to-right frozen/ dried/ household/ packaged goods, surrounded by perishables is familiar and logical. From my view it was recognized and unceremoniously adopted by the snatchers. A good test, and certainly an ergonomic success there. One of a few notable surprises at the new Publix.

The produce section is small but full of variety. I was at first impressed with the stickers on avocados saying, 'ripe and ready to eat.' To test, I felt to see how many of the stickered fruit in fact yielded slightly to pressure, the standard squeeze test for avocados. Yes, most were just right, but a few were overripe which even if an oversight, reads conspicuously as insulting merchandise-shoving measure. Nonetheless it's the thought that counts. It seems a very nice touch that may or may not be continued once the Potemkin festivities cool. Otherwise the bins were full of many varieties of tubers, fruit, and the like. I feel the produce section is very much up to standard and will go far even to please the organic shopper. To boot, $1.49 for an organic cauliflower is quite a deal! The cold bins are set up more vertically than usual, which makes great space-saving sense. New inward-pointing misters relieve the shopper of sudden downpours while reaching for a bunch of carrots. Very good.

To test the knowledge of the produce attendant nearby I picked up a Name root and asked, 'Excuse me, Is this Jicama going to keep in the crunchy salad I plan to prepare?' Without blinking an eye he courteously answered, 'Jicama is a great choice for your salad but you know? You have a Name in your hand there, allow me to point out the Jicamas, they're over here...' This was very impressive as one can't always expect a produce attendant (as opposed to supervisor- in this case the supervisor was across the aisle and distinguishable by a large badge) to know the difference, plus make such a polite and skillful correction to the customer. As I will continue to point out, one very good thing about the Publix is the crew of carefully attentive and knowledgeable employees. But also, one will have to see how long this remains. I purchased a number of salad ingredients, notably some vine tomatoes which looked delectably red. Of course they were non-organic and probably color enhanced, but I could not help myself. I put them on the top of the basket to test the color once I got farther away from the special low-hang incandescent lighting over produce.

Speaking of baskets, one very nice touch is the carrying basket stations amptly scatered throughout the store. I recall many times I needed a basket at the Kroger or Piggly Wiggly, only to find I had to return to the front to get one. Kroger could pick up a thing or two from the aggresive Florida-based Publix.

Overhead in produce, a hidden speaker chirped sweetly away (an obviously recorded 'soothing' female produce barker) on the merits of Publix's produce and specials offered. Unfortunately I could not make out the specifics. I kept wishing she would suddenly say, '...welcome to the transportation mall!' Despite the admittedly pleasant musical wallpaper effect of her voice, in time she blended into the noise and hustle.

For the carnivorous, the meat section is underwhelming but probably adequate. A small seafood area contains however a number of interesting deviations, like different sizes of cooked shrimp which looked to be very fresh. Prices seemed to be quite reasonable, certainly no more than other chains. I was impressed with a hanging shelf of odd meat based packaged products, one of which I had never seen -Cumberland Gap vacuum-packed chunk ham. Those who cook ham and corn pies, for instance, will be delighted at the convenience of this product. I couldn't help but notice the small offering of standard cuts though. It is more a spoiled society statement than anything, still to compete with Kroger and Cub Foods, Publix will have to 'beef up' this area.

I will not spend much time going over household/ personal care items. Three very full aisles seemed to be full of the predictable brands, and were laid out again in very trot-and-snatch friendly fashion. I will point out though- Tom's of Maine toothpaste users will not find the brand at Publix. An assortment of only Sugary toothpastes does make a statement about consumerism and Wal-Mart standards (apologies to Addriene) and should be noted by those looking for more alternative, less chemicalesque personal care products. The nail repair section however was very well stocked with good variety and should leave none complaining.

Working my way back to the right side of the store I checked out the 'International Foods' section. Aye Carumba! Oy! Now here's where our Publix really shines. There were so many brands of products, I was overwhelmed and delighted with all the color and interesting labels. A cornucopia of brands like Jumex, Goya, et al in the Mexican/ Latin category met me, smugly gazing off the shelves. As an added touch one can buy religious glassed candles at the store. This is certainly one of the success stories. Also, decent varieties of Asian and Kosher packaged foods presented themselves and should please all.

I was ready to shoot the whole works down for not carrying Classico spaghetti sauce in the next aisle, but thankfully found it amidst the other sugary varieties. Those who prefer the Pesto version will not find it however. I was getting ready to check out at this point, otherwise I would have asked an attendant about the omission. Standard assortments of rice and pasta brands are available in the sauce/packaged section and prices are average to low.

The Bakery is well stocked and from what I could see, perhaps overstocked with bakery employees. Too many cooks on opening day however may have been appropriate. I was dismayed to find the only bread pudding offered had to be purchased in whole-pan form. I was wandering about the section with perhaps a disappointed look, when just then to my utter delight a bakery employee turned the corner with of all things, half a bread pudding. We spotted each other immediately as if this was a marriage made in heaven. She smiled and there was definite recognition both ways, that the customer could in fact have half a bread pudding. After I thanked her profusely, she sweetly asked if I was looking for anything else, which certainly helped me to feel at home and furthered my positive assessment of Publix employee-customer relations. The bread pudding itself was an acceptably kitschy chartreuse, maybe not too appetizing for some but certainly for others the 'real stuff.' I must say I was too delighted with the serendipitous bread pudding incident to scrutinize the bakery as critically from then on. It seems adequately stocked with site-baked varieties, including sourdough, Italian/French and herb breads and should be a nice find for the Publix shopper.

It was time to look at the Tomatoes in the basket. Sure enough, I was treated to a not-so-lustery view of Tomatoes under cold light. Surely in natural light they would be also less appealing than what Publix would have us think, courtesy of full-spectrum indoor incandescants. One can't be too harsh though, on the scale of supermarket tactics this is par for the course. For a specific trip in search of natural/ organic produce, one is advised to still stick with the Dekalb Farmer's Market.

Time to check out. Or wait. Yes, make that wait. And wait. And stand, and wait some more. With the sad and tired countenance of groggy international passengers, shoppers on this end of the tour had, every one, lost all sense of exploration or curiosity. A few appeared downright hostile. There were frowns all around except for a couple in my vision who were laughing over something. Perhaps the perverse, inexhaustibly cruel comedy of being pressed into a shopping cart train at least seven cars long. My wait in line lasted 27 minutes and felt like a flight to New Zealand. During this time a friendly customer relations representative -this time dressed in coat and tie- began making the rounds with a large tray of cookies. For the sake of crisis-management glucose elevation this was a good move, however it backfired for me and maybe for others as the realization of how sheltered US consumer society is from REAL food lines in other parts of the world, sunk in. Check-out was uneventful, perhaps somewhat uplifting as I was able to feel sympathy and admiration for the checkout cashier who was doing a marvelous job at handling the long line, keeping everything scanning and beeping along at a very fast clip. She scanned twice my apple juice and quickly reversed the charge as I remarked how good she was. She replied she preferred a busy day, as the time moves faster that way.

And on out the door I came in, with the same representative still there passing out maps with a smile that did by then seem a little more clenched-up. When I got home I found the baggers had left out my tomatoes. I returned to the store after ten only to find it had closed to stretch and flex it's muscles after the first day. A security attendant outside was unable to convince the manager (who was 'busy stocking') that a quick pass-through of vine tomatoes would satisfy me. Further proof that green and granite do not a neighborhood store make. I would be required to make yet another trip.

Overall the new Publix at Shamrock is a disappointment sorely lacking in shopping ease and esthetic comfort, but will surely bring the die-hard Publix fan out to patronize it's cramped quarters. Friendly service and a few novel items will change some minds and perhaps steal some from the Toco Kroger, but I feel not many will switch from the blue to the green. The Dekalb Market remains a welcoming and spacious alternative to shop despite high prices, and will doubtless continue to be frequented with little or no competition from the green folks from down south. And, quickly mentioning the theatrical feel of the Dekalb Market, it will doubtless remain the most 'real' and 'bustling' in the best sense. If you need a few things, enjoy atmosphere AND you happen to be traveling east on North Druid Hills folks, keep going and take a right on Ponce.

Rating: Publix at Shamrock: **1/2, stick with Kroger or DFM

Copyright © 1999 Brien Engel

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