Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A whole lot of Meijer

If you don’t live in the Midwest, you likely haven’t been in a Meijer store. They are located all across the landscape in Michigan but you’ll find them in adjacent states, too. If you live in Oregon, you’re likely familiar with the Fred Meyer chain of stores. I don’t think there’s any connection between the two chains, although they are pronounced the same and they both carry anything you could possibly need.

Meijer is the place to be. If you need a peach for lunch or a futon at four o’clock in the morning, go to Meijer. You can buy the latest DVDS and televisions and phones. You can buy guns and hunting ammunition, and bright orange vests so other hunters don’t start shooting at you. You can buy Zoloft and lottery tickets, tents and candy bars from Germany and Britain, and gloves.

I remember driving my friend Anita, a fellow Georgian, to Ann Arbor, but the first stop we made in Michigan -- and the very first place she’d ever been in the state -- was the Meijer in Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti has an unfortunate Native American name that doesn’t translate well to a die-hard Michigan Midwestern accent, but that Meijer was the granddaddy of Meijer stores in my book. A massive parking lot of enormous Buicks and Fords and Chevys and Chryslers surrounded the store, and as we hopped out of the rental Corolla and made our way through the snow flurries across the parking lot, Anita knew, for the first time, what it was really like to be cold. We were there to buy gloves and other warm accoutrements, but the store left an indelible impression on Anita, just as it had on me five years earlier.

Picture it: a bright, cavernous store arranged into neat departments. Large families pushed overstuffed shopping carts with mirrors, fried chicken, chainsaws, live hamsters, Hanes briefs and 3-liter bottles of Vernor's and Faygo Red Pop. Meanwhile, the two of us shivered and huddled in the winter accessories department under a stack of University of Michigan and Detroit Redwings acrylic hats. Christmas music played on the loudspeaker, paused only by intermittent announcements about Meijer’s own macaroni and cheese being on sale, three boxes for a dollar, spoken by a woman with a meticulously flat Michigan accent (she succeeded at pronouncing every hint of a nasal syllable in her verbalization of m-yack-uh-rohwn-nheeeee). Anita looked around at the women in the store with their decidedly Midwestern hairstyles, different versions of cropped bowl cuts and pony tails with sculptural “uplifted” bangs in front. Many of them probably had had their hair styled just upstairs at the Meijer hair salon.

It was culture shock. There were no Meijer stores in Georgia. Combined with hairstyles, snow flurries, temperatures, accents and men walking around in hunting vests, I delighted in her efforts to take it all in. I had the same experience five years earlier when I first entered that same store. At the time, the store was called “Meijer’s Thrifty Acres” and sported an appropriately classy sign. I relished the thought that if I ever wanted to buy a dresser or lamps at 3:00 AM, I could just head over to Meijer to see what I could buy.

My friend Anne, now a professor at small liberal arts college about an hour from Ypsilanti’s Meijer, was my partner in crime at the store. We would compare our purchases of new pots and pans and baking dishes, as well as hammers and oatmeal (for baking her famous honey oat bars), all purchased at that Ypsilanti Meijer. I once went on a date with someone who worked there. And that’s where, as a sophomore in college, I bought a glass bowl, a ceramic castle, water purifying solution, and some blue pebbles, along with two bright live goldfish . My new pets swam around, their unemotional fish faces peering from the clear plastic bag that served as their fragile transport vessel as I rode the public bus home to my dorm room. I purified the water and dropped the two little creatures, whose lives were now in my hands, into their new domicile to swim endless loops in the fishbowl around the enchanted castle, together for as long as they both should live. They were dead a few hours later when I returned.

I rode the bus back to Meijer with the dead fishlets in the bag. I returned with two new ones to introduce to the lightly used accommodations, repurifying the water with a friend to make sure I was doing it right. This time they died within three days.

Perhaps it was something toxic in East Quad’s water – something that panicked me for only about a day – but I figured that fish shouldn’t have been taken from their big fish families (schools?). They just were in love with Meijer. They missed the cheery lights, the “fill your own Icee cup machine," the loaves of Meijer bakery white bread colored bright chartreuse on St. Patrick’s Day.

20 years later, I’m on a flight from Grand Rapids. Having just been in Michigan, I stopped in at two Meijer stores in the heart of Meijerland: one in Grand Rapids, the store’s hometown, and one in Holland, complete with an aisle of candies and cookies from Holland (the other one, with more progressive politics).

The barber shops are gone and the aisles have been brightened a bit, no doubt to compete with Wal-Mart and Target. But I bought bins of Michigan dried cherries, Dutch candies, batteries, and a defective telephone headset that I returned (hence, the purpose of my second visit to Meijer). I told my coworker to do his late-night shopping at Meijer, and he bought a decent pair of pants, a shirt and a tie to wear instead of shorts and a Hawaiian shirt at our interview today (I still say he would have had a good excuse, having flown right to Michigan from his honeymoon, without his suitcase, but he looked very Meijer chic).

A magnificent place. Meijer.

Hey Mister Meijer? Do you want to open a store in San Francisco on Market Street? I think it would appeal to those of us in Northern California who don’t like chain stores taking over our city. Nobody would know it’s a chain store because they don’t go to the Midwest, and they would flock there to buy all of your wonderful products. We need a gathering place to see what our own crazy hairdos look like in fluorescent lights, and to hear our own loudspeaker voices, maybe in the form of a speedy Chinese accent , booming over the intercom to tell us about “three for a dollar” Thai spicy flavored ramen noodles . I will wander in from the cold on a June day in San Francisco to buy “Alcatraz Psychiatric Ward” and 49ers gear shirts to protect me from the bluster. Just leave the hunting department back in Grand Rapids.

No comments:

About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman