Gas station without pumps

2015 December 10

Disappointment with chain stores

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:26
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I’ve been getting more and more disappointed with large corporate chains and moving what little business they got from me elsewhere.

For example, I used to buy a lot of tea at Peet’s, which started as a small regional chain (initially in Berkeley, I believe). I often went there on weekends to do grading away from my computer. I’d buy a can of leaf tea, a piece of shortbread, and drink the free pot of tea that I got with the purchase of the can of tea leaves.  They were one of the few coffee shops that had a decent selection of teas, and they did not turn up the music to painfully loud levels to drive people out (the way that Lulu’s at the Octagon sometimes does). I bought a lot of tea there (probably over 100 cans), but I’ve gradually gotten less and less enamored of the place.

They started being out of shortbread almost every weekend, because the managers weren’t allowed to order the amount they needed—they were shipped a certain amount and that was it. Then they discontinued the shortbread entirely.  I never found out whether it was because they couldn’t get a reliable supply, or because only the Santa Cruz store was selling out of it, and in the corporate world you can’t have any differences between branches (uniformity trumps sales in corporate-land).

This fall, they merged with another company and cut their tea selection in half, eliminating some of my favorites and raising the prices substantially on what was left.  Given that their tea prices were high to begin with, keeping only the most overpriced teas told me that they did not value their tea-drinking customers.  I had heard from the staff that Santa Cruz had one of the highest ratios of tea to coffee of any of the Peet’s stores—not a surprise given how many good coffee shops there are within 2 blocks, and how few of them had a decent tea selection. Getting rid of their one distinction from their rivals struck me as corporate short-sightedness.

So I’ve given up doing my grading at Peet’s and have given up buying their tea. I now bike an extra couple of miles and get bulk tea at Staff of Life (one of the few locally owned grocery stores left in town, and the one with the best bulk selection). My tea is now a quarter the price of what Peet’s charges for their cans of tea leaves.  I’m still looking for a new place to grade away from my computer—the breakfast room in my house is not far enough away to avoid distraction.

I mentioned that Staff of Life is a locally owned grocery store, with the best bulk section in town. I don’t shop there much, though, because of the distance away.  Most of my grocery shopping is still done at New Leaf, which is a local chain that was sold to an out-of-state chain a couple of years ago (the owner had to step down from his role at Think Local First, and New Leaf Markets had to stop being a member). We shop at New Leaf partly because of the giving  program—we use a gift card that we purchase through Alternative Family Education (my son’s former umbrella school for homeschooling), and 5% of what we spend there is donated to the AFE Parent Club. New Leaf is also conveniently located on the Westside and downtown.

The only more conveniently located store for us is the Food Bin, which is only ¼ mile from our house and is still locally owned. We do shop there a fair amount, but they are a tiny store with more snacks than staples, so the selection is a bit limited.

I also shop occasionally (including today) at the oldest independent grocer in town: Shopper’s Corner.  They have a good wine buyer, a good butcher shop, and a better selection of European imports than other stores in town, but their Eastside location is a bit inconvenient for me (not as far as Staff of Life, though).

The one big chain I still shop at, though I dislike the place, is Trader Joe’s. They are now primarily a beer and wine store, with a grocery store attached, and do provide good prices on beer and wine. I also buy cereal, cheap chocolate, and soy milk there.  I get irritated almost every time I go there, though, by things like the SUV-sized shopping carts, which make the store difficult to move around in even when the store is almost empty (and even though most people are buying only a backpack’s worth of booze and snacks). They also rarely manage to have working shopping carts at the Front Street entrance (the one that has bike parking), but usually have a few scattered around with locked wheels from their anti-theft system.

Today I went in to stock up on soy milk for my son’s coming home for winter break, but the lines at the checkout registers were so long and slow moving that I put the soy milk back on the shelf and left without buying anything. They recently redesigned their checkout counters so that there is no longer any room for putting groceries into bags, and their new credit-card machines are easily twice as slow as their old ones (which were already the slowest in town).  I stopped in on my way back from a science-fair presentation at AFE, but the timing was bad—the 5pm rush was in full swing as people got off work.  Unfortunately, Trader Joe’s is the only store that carries my son’s favorite soy milk brand (a Trader Joe’s house brand), and soy milks are so different from each other that they are not interchangeable. I’ll go in midday Saturday, when they’ll be less busy, to get the soy milk.

Other than a few purchases at Trader Joe’s and the formerly local chain New Leaf, I’ve pretty much cut out shopping at chain stores and franchises.  I sometimes pay a little more to shop at stores that are truly local, sometimes get stuff at a local thrift store (like the last two flannel shirts I bought), or buy stuff online (my electronics hobby mainly involves purchases from distributors like Digi-Key, Mouser, or Jameco, but some stuff directly from China.

6 Comments »

  1. I’d be curious to hear what you try while looking for a new non-computerized grading location.

    I’ve used coffee shops myself, but at even $3 (for coffee) per visit it’s a bit much to use more than once per grading season (“season” being either midterms or finals). I’ve used public libraries on occasion, and am thinking about using the campus library/ies in order to have a couple of places to go (i.e., grade for X hours, then take a snack break, then a walking break to the next location, then grade for Y more hours, etc, etc).

    So I’d be curious to hear about places that you’re trying out while you search for a new good place to grade

    Comment by Mike — 2015 December 11 @ 09:22 | Reply

    • When I was grading my applied electronics class last year, I went to Peet’s almost every weekend, which came to about $10–$14 a time (can of leaf tea and a scone or two). The campus library is not convenient for me to visit on weekends—the bike commute is 45 minutes round-trip, but the downtown branch of the city library is a possibility for weekend grading.

      I do like drinking tea while I grade, though, so I might try the Hidden Peak Teahouse, which advertises “DIGITAL-FREE. No cell phones, laptops, kindles, or iPods. Imagine going on a date with just your date—not a whole world calling or texting you out of your conversation.” But a glass of tea there ranges from $6 to $35, so it may be a bit pricey for frequent grading.

      (Correction: they do have a Dragonwell green tea for only $3.50 and a black tea for $4.25, but most of their teas are much more expensive—they go up to $425 a glass—and no, I didn’t omit a decimal point.)

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 December 11 @ 13:06 | Reply

      • NIfty! The $10-14 per trip make sense if you’re taking home the can of tea that you then drink during the week. It’s less of a ‘cost per grading’ and more of ‘tea you want anyways, plus some bonus grading time’.

        I tried the downtown library here in Seattle; I forgot that it more-or-less serves as a homeless shelter during the day. It was a bit crowded and lacks the nice ‘nooks’ to grade off by myself. Seattle has a pile of library branches (which is awesome) and some of the ones in North Seattle have a bit more space (even though the buildings aren’t as nice). I think I’m going to see if UW has any nice library nooks for grading during the next Grading Tsunami.

        It took me a while to realize that what I’m really looking for is the A.D. White Library back at Cornell, from my Master’s days. Not enough to move back, but still – it would be nice :)
        ( http://www.cornell.edu/academics/library.cfm seems to have an image of it as their first image in the carousel )

        UW’s Suzzalo library actually has a cafe in it (although I think you can only eat/drink in the cafe part) as does the Seattle Public downtown branch – no idea if any libraries near you do but it might be worth checking out.

        At any rate – good luck, and I hope this all works out.

        Comment by Mike — 2015 December 13 @ 21:50 | Reply

        • The A.D. White library is a nice place, though I never graded there when I taught at Cornell (1982–86).

          The UCSC McHenry Library has a popular cafe (currently closed as the prior vendor was slow on paying rent, but reopening in a couple of months). It is not convenient for me on weekends, though. The Science and Engineering Library will get a cafe if they can ever afford the remodel.

          The Seattle Downtown library is a nice-looking building, though I found the stacks there rather weird. When I was last in Seattle, we mainly used the Wallingford branch—but I was on sabbatical then, so did not need to do any grading.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 December 13 @ 23:10 | Reply

          • You taught at Cornell? I am impressed, sir! :)

            I didn’t go there enough when I was there, either. In retrospect I wish I’d done all my studying there, but at the time stomping across the Arts Tundra^HQuad wasn’t always the most appealing thing.

            I think that the Downtown library is Beautiful Architecture in the vein of that architecture book I read that said that great art sometimes makes people uncomfortable, and since architecture is art it can also make people uncomfortable. ( I think the author illustrated the point by talking about how Frank Lloyd Wright made a small, beautiful summer cottage with floor to ceiling windows that wouldn’t open – i.e., a designer greenhouse). The library is a work of art, but if they wanted to maximize efficiency they clearly should have gone for a different design.
            I love walking around in it, I keep wanting to find a space to work in it, but it seems to require some effort to figure out how to fit myself into it.

            When were you in Seattle?

            Comment by Mike — 2015 December 13 @ 23:26

          • The last time I was in Seattle was Spring 2004, doing a quarter of sabbatical in a lab at UW.

            Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 December 14 @ 11:01


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