There was a notable trip to the Porter Square Star Market, a quick jaunt to pick up a couple of bagels and replenish the house’s dwindling supply of roasted, unsalted store-brand peanuts. The trip was notable because the store had neither, making the trip worthless.
But that makes many of my trips to the store notable, because many wind up in that kind of frustration. And it’s not because most of my shopping is done between 11 p.m. and midnight, before restocking is done, since there are other nights when bagels are plentiful and yet other nights when there are at least a few, even if — oddly — it is only one flavor. You’d think the demand for bagels would be somewhat more steady, like the demand for roasted, unsalted store-brand peanuts, but you wouldn’t know it from the supply.
The store seems to have two main failings: It doesn’t note when something’s running out, so it can reorder, restock and keep a supply on hand — although millions of people in households across the United States do that without thinking; and it invests heavily in merchandise that gathers dust on the shelf, sometimes a lot of dust, but lightly in the merchandise that sells out quickly. I’m confident of this because many times I shop night after night, buying one or two items and returning to buy one or two more, so I get a good sense of flow of, say, the roasted, unsalted store-brand peanuts I buy (fast, but few jars are put on the shelves) vs. the salted variety (slow, with an army of jars available). The same goes for the Tribe brand Calamata Chunky Olive Hummus vs. its many hummus siblings, SoBe teas vs. the various bizarre nontea liquids SoBe puts out (“SoBe Fuerte,” “Lizard Lava,” et. al.), and probably many more.
The store does learn, slowly, at least on some items. The calamata hummus is now in steadier supply, after weeks or months of spotty appearances, and the same goes for the Peloponnese Kalatama Olive Spread, rare but encouraging examples of store managers doing what they’re supposed to: noticing what sells out when and figuring out when to get more. And, although prices remain high, at least the store has stopped moving stuff around so frequently.
But managers are stubborn on other improvements, citing excuses such as the disproportionate number of people served by the relatively small store (an odd mea culpa coming from a site that was open 24 hours but now closes at midnight). Nonsense. If Newbury Comics can think to keep reordering 13-year-old spoken-word albums by dead beat writer William S. Burroughs, Star Market managers can arrange to keep some popular peanuts around.
That excuse is weak, also, for many of the other mysteries of the market.
The bags of salad, for instance, lacked individual price labels when I ate salad wraps daily, and there were no shelf labels, either. (I have pictures of this, from back when I blackmailed the store into action by complaining repeatedly that it was illegal and that I intended to notify the attorney general.) It’s insidious because, although the bags are almost all the same size, they have different weights and prices. A 10-ounce bag of one kind of salad looks the same as a 16-ounce bag of another kind, but today it cost $2.99, while the 16-ounce bag cost $1.99. And the 32-ounce bag, although twice as large, is just $1.79. There are also 5-ounce bags for $2.99 and 6-ounce bags for $3.29, as well as at least two brands on sale, with the store’s costing counterintuitively more. So … good luck.
I also have pictures of individual cans of Hansen’s soda from the market’s bargain bin, priced to move at a mere $1. Interesting, considering that a six-pack costs $2.
During a recent visit, some of the Nikos Feta Cheese packages had individual price stickers, which are necessary because the weight of the cheese slabs vary. But some didn’t have stickers, and the bin holding them offered no guidance.
And how about Shaw’s Dandruff Shampoo? There are two kinds, for normal hair or for fine or oily hair, and each bottle holds 13.5 fluid ounces. The normal-hair version cost $8.27 per quart, or $3.49 for a bottle, and the other version costs $7.34 per quart or … $3.49 for a bottle. I pointed out to a manager that this was mathematically impossible. He walked away.
Some three months later, nothing has changed.