Sunday, July 22, 2012

How a Grocery Store Won Me Back

Brompton View
There is a grocery store nearby that I've always neglected despite its proximity. They did not have a great selection of foods. They often sold stuff that was spoiled or expired. At the the checkout, the cashiers would argue with me when I declined plastic bags. And the bike parking outside was iffy. This store is so close I could easily walk to it, but carrying bags of groceries is just easier on a bike. And since I did food shopping by bike anyway, I figured I might as well shop at the stores I preferred, even if it meant riding further. 

I suspect that other residents of our neighbourhood felt similarly, because about half a year ago the nearby store began to aggressively reinvent itself. They cleaned up, reorganised their merchandise, added an organic foods section. They expanded their selection of produce. The quality control is much improved. They now sell reusable shopping bags and don't argue when customers decline plastic. 

But best of all, they allow me to roll my Brompton inside and use it as a shopping cart. No questions or comments, other than the occasional "Look, it's a bike and shopping cart in one!" Considering that other shops have thrown me out even when I've walked in with the bike fully folded, the permissive attitude of this store came as a pleasant surprise. Walking in with a small-wheel shopper is really no different from pushing a huge shopping cart; they get it. Now I shop there almost exclusively. Not only have they improved their store, but they've made shopping by bike a breeze.

While those of us who ride small wheel shoppers are in the minority, many cyclists report that their shopping preferences are guided by the store's bike-friendlieness. This can refer to a number of things, from adequate bike parking, to the parking lot being safe to navigate, to the location itself being reachable via a bike-friendly route. Do these considerations play a role in where you do your grocery shopping?

35 comments:

  1. Bike-friendliness is definitely a criteria in my choice of grocery stores. I park outside, but I've heard from friends that Trader Joe's allows him to bring his road bike in.

    I have, though, used my bike as a cart at the garden center. It's mostly outdoors and has wide aisles for their oversized carts so it's not surprising that no one complains. Now I'm wondering what Home Depot and Costco would say.

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    1. I roll my bike into Home Depot all the time without a problem, but I haven't tried at Costco. If anyone has, I'd love to know how they were greeted.

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  2. There's a grocery store 1.5 miles from my house that I would love to patronize, but the service is so slow it is agonizing. I often head there when I'm missing one ingredient for dinner: 10 minutes from my house to lock up my bike, five minutes walking around the store, and then 30 minutes in line! I can't stand in line longer than it takes me to bike round trip--it's just too frustrating.
    So I go to the store 2.5 miles away. The time ends up being the same, but there's a higher proportion spent biking, so it *feels* better.

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  3. I don't take a bike inside, even a folder. But certainly bike parking is the big issue for me.

    We do a lot of our shopping at two markets that are literally a one-minute walk away, but we also go to two local Trader Joes (one has bike racks, one has a small bike corral) and the "Original Farmers Market" a couple of miles away--which has a large bike corral.

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  4. If it's the grocery store I'm thinking of, the Scientist used to live near there, and we would go to great lengths to avoid it! Nice to know that they've gotten their act together and improved both selection and bike-friendliness. I have been disappointed in the bike parking at both Whole Foods, which is purportedly environmentally friendly, and Trader Joe's which has a hipster demographic that seems to mesh with bicycling.

    Especially as transportation biking becomes more popular, the racks become more crowded and the substandard bike racks more annoying.

    I go out of my way to go to customer service and complain every time the racks are full. I think a lot of stores don't realize how many of their customers arrive by bike, and therefore discount the importance of bike parking.

    I have only taken my bike into a store once, and it was very early in the morning when the store was uncrowded. Saw a guy in the MIT Star market with his bike on Saturday though.

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    1. Hmm so maybe it's Star Market policy.

      With Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, you really do have to pick strategic times to shop there if you hope to find bike parking, even in the winter.

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  5. Now think about it - why not go a step further. They should now make you more space between the aisles and let you bike'n'shop. Such ride-thru shopping, that would be a novelty!

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    1. I've considered it, but don't want to push my luck!

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  6. Interesting. I've taken my Brompton in shopping cart mode into the little Hispanic grocery store closest to me and into Target. So far (knock wood), no problems, though I did collect a small crowd when it was time to unfold the Brompton. But Bromptons are pretty rare around here so far. Heck, BIKES are pretty rare in my area. :(

    Though today I did have a guy give me a big thumbs up on the bike riding, and told me to keep it up, as it was good for folks to ride. His 94 year old dad still rode a bike. :)

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  7. Going to the grocery store each day, no doubt, is the least stressful and most pleasant part of the day. All my options are a couple miles from the house and they all offer different experiences. No matter, I just enjoy the pedaling, the loading up with food and the pedaling. I think those of us who bike are a bit different and often get odd looks...whatever, it's part of my identity. Today, a stranger came up and asked about my panniers b/c he was thinking of getting some for grocery shopping. Cool. Living the life I love and playing a small role in revealing options to others...love it:)

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  8. My bike has enabled me to not only shop daily for fresh ingredients but it has allowed me to shop at a super-popular market where it's impossible to find a parking space for a car! I used to dread going there and now I roll up 4 or 5 times a week, pop the shoppers off the bike and attach them to a grocery cart rail, and fill 'er up. With the easily removable shoppers, no bags are needed and I can perfectly gauge how much I can carry. My bike folds, but the store is too crowded to take in. And since riding is so much fun, I can hit the meat market and fish market on my trips as well.

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  9. I've never taken my bike into Costco, but I do ride it there to shop. People are astounded to see my pedal away with two panniers full and a 35 pound bag of dog food on the rack with a super bundle of TP on top of the dog food =).

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  10. Good for them for cleaning up their act and letting you bring your bike in. I have pondered asking the management at the grocery store closest to me if they would allow me to roll my bike through the store to use as a shopping cart. They're only a half a mile from my house, directly across from work, have the best produce around and offer a very nice shopping experience. The only problem is that they do not have any bicycle parking of any sort. I tend to make do with locking up to one of the seats of the outdoor cafe tables. Which they have not complained about, but is an issue if someone happens to be using them.

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  11. Have you tried bringing in a full sized bike with a basket attached?

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  12. Ha, I think I know the store, it's our backup, but I haven't been in at least six month. Please tell me the checkout clerk "L" is still there.

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  13. Nearest grocery store is 1.5 miles away, next closest grocery store (same chain) is 7 miles away. Nearest Trader Joes?... over 45 miles away. The access to the closest stores really isn't cyclist friendly and there aren't any bike racks, but you do what you have to do.

    Aaron

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  14. Hey I told you that's what I consider...this is a joke.

    Must be new ownership; people don't just pull their heads out so rapidly, en general.

    Nice to see you using reuseables now.

    Arguing about plastic? What. The. Hell. Those things strangulate little birds and microparticulate into a vast raft in the Pacific the size of Tejas.

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  15. I've been wheeling full sized bikes of various sorts -- even my Ken Rogers trike, when I still owned it -- through two of our local Albertson's for years. The only thing that gets comments (apart from "hellos" from the staffs and once a manager's eager inquiry about the trike) is warnings that my headlights are on -- they are dynamo powered and are on all the time. I've not tried Costco, but with the large packages they sell it is probably easier, anyway, to lock the bike outside at the rack. At the nearby organic-discount-gourmet-independent grocery, Sunflower, the aisles are too narrow and crowded, so I leave a lock permanently attached to the rack outside. I rarely go to Target or WalHell unless I am taking my mother in the car.

    For a while I had a dedicated Worksman tricycle grocery shopper which I left outside: one premise with that vehicle was that it was cheap enough that its loss would not be a great one. I did have a "frame lock" mounted on the fork, though.

    FWIW, the most convenient shopping bike setup I owned, of many, was an old Motobecane Grand Record fixie with large, Dutch-style panniers and a rear dropout mount stand. I could leave the stand down as I wheeled the bike through the aisles and park ad hoc it as needed mid-aisle. I found that this Greenfield held the loaded bike up -- even with grossly asymmetrically loaded panniers -- better than any bb-area-mount single or double leg stand (I used Plestcher and Velo Orange's -- neither kept the bike from falling over under heavy, asymmetrical loads).

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  16. I forgot to add that, when my daughter, now 11, was 2 to 5 or so, I'd walk to the nearest Albertson's while she rode, first her coaster, pneumatic tricycle with parent override steering (via a pop-in rear handle), then her 16" wheel bike with training wheels. We'd cruise the aisles, she riding and me walking. I did get one or two dirty looks from other patrons for that, but they were more than matched by the "oh, how cute!" looks and remarks. Odd that no one has complained, even via a look askance, about my full size bikes in the aisles.

    I expect that southwesterners (I am in ABQ, NM, metro area circa 750K) are far less uptight about such things, and in general, than inhabitants of crowded NE urban areas.

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  17. I have on old Maruishi with a small front rack and a large Wald basket zip tied to it. Ride it at least a couple of times a day to the grocery store about a half mile away. Never tried to bring it in, just lock it up to the railings outside and carry a plastic basket.

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  18. I wonder if Home Depot would let me roll in the Big Dummy as a lumber rack.

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  19. Yep! It certainly does play a role. I avoid going to the 'mall' like the plague as the bike parking is bad and miles away from the entrance (quiet enough to leave thieves to get on with their business). But then, to be fair I would avoid shopping centres anyway.

    My local independent grocery store lets me lock my bike on a pole 10 feet from the checkout and the lovely staff keep an eye on it whilst I'm in the store. They have good quality fruit and veg (but only a small selection) and I tend to get my staples there.

    Actually, the main effect of my shopping by bike is that I go to a greater variety of places than I would by car. I'm not 'green' particularly, but, I wouldn't leave a car park and then drive 5km further because I prefer the dates or avocado at another store. On the bike my shopping can resemble a bit of a scavenger hunt. Organic veg here, bulk pet food there, fresh mangoes at another place and then over to a little place that sells the freshest, local asparagus at rock bottom prices whilst in season. I'm on the bike anyway, the sun is shining and it takes very little time to whip round my local options (I am very spoilt and very grateful).

    That's why I'm always a little taken aback when people assume that I must find grocery shopping limiting on a bike. I actually think my larder is improved because of it.

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  20. Do you use that cranberry juice for mixing or drink it straight?

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    1. I drink it straight, but I generally like sour things. I snack on lemons too.

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  21. it's the irony of 2012! we never got the personal hovercrafts we were promised back in the '50's, but people sure are tired of eating "plastic food" and the capitalists are finally wising up!

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  22. We shop for groceries by bike most of the time; I usually make a stop on the bike commute home. Trader Joes is about 2 miles away, including a mile of bike path. Another grocery store is even closer. Both are very convenient by bike. It's actually more convenient to shop at TJ's by bike than by car; the bike route is more direct and I don't have to bother with parking the car.

    At the local stores I almost always bring the bike inside and park it out of the way, up front near the registers.  The grocery stores always have good security camera coverage of the entrance/exit. The bike just leans up against the bags of charcoal or boxes of whatever. One eccentric local used to park his high-wheeler inside like that. The shop wasn't so enthusiastic about that.

    At TJ's I used to push the bike through the isles like a shopping cart, with a basket on top of the porteur rack. Same thing with the Rando bike; basket sits on top of the Berthoud bag. The clerks would say something like "cool bike" but one of the managers at the TJ's gave me grief about it a couple of times, so now I just park it up front by the registers.

    With the Brompton, I simply fold it and put it under a shopping cart. It's easy enough to wheel around that way. So far no one has ever complained.

    Sometimes I do push the limits, but am always happy to back off if asked. Once I walked my mixte into the hosiery department at Nordstrom during the holiday shopping season. I leaned it up against the register like it was no big deal. And it was no big deal. I made my purchases and was out in 10 or 15 minutes without a raised eyebrow. Another time I wanted to purchase an adapter at the Apple Store in Bordeaux. It's one of the new flagship stores in France, in a beautiful building. I was paranoid about leaving the bike locked up outside with a flimsy cable lock. So the bike came inside with me. I figured it would only take a few minutes. Of course, the part I needed was only sold upstairs. So up I went, carrying the bike. An associate came over to inform me about how the manager said I'd have to take the bike outside. I said OK, but could I buy an adapter first? She was nice about it and we closed the deal in two minutes. Out I went with the bike; mission accomplished.

    The Brompton is the best. It folds in seconds and with the cover over it no one would guess it's a bicycle. I rode it to the museum one evening and left it behind the front desk with the receptionist. No questions asked. At closing time she and the security guard were amazed; hey, it's a bike!

    Plastic shopping bags are banned in these parts. Sometimes I'll take a paper bag; it's easy to ride the hoods with the bag balanced on top of the Berthoud handlebar bag.

    The 650b mixte porteur is for the heavy loads. It can carry a case of wine and then some more..

    -t

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  23. Parking does indeed play a role! it seems like a lot of chain stores are going out of their way to make it impossible to lock up bikes lately. Gigantic poured-concrete columns, no racks, railings, sign or lampposts that will accommodate a standard 6' cable lock (forget using a u-lock around here, there's nothing they'll fit), make finding a decent lockup pretty difficult.
    I've never rolled my commuter inside yet, but I'm tempted.

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  24. Chicago organic groceries are dominated by the three big chains, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Marinos. Neither allow bikes in store. WF and TJ have many well placed racks. Depending on which and when you visit, the WF racks are often very crowded.

    The Latino neighborhoods have their own produce stores - often local or regional chains. These do not allow bikes inside, are indifferent toward racks, and really believe in plastic bags. On the other hand, if you live in a Latino neighborhood, they are prolific, open early until very late, allowing minimal storage.

    Open air Farmer's Markets are popping up everywhere. So many walk bikes through them it is becoming something of a hazard. The Midwest drought is really having an impact on the local growers. The amount and quality of produce is down significantly at a time when demand is skyrocketing.

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  25. I bet I know the store you're talking about. Did/does it still have carpeted aisles?

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  26. For me the day of week and time of day I grocery shop are the important variables I control. Worries about parking lot congestion, store congestion, competing for bike racks, bike theft, motor vehicle traffic, etc., etc. are minimized if I use the two 24/7 grocery stores within a couple miles of me or the 365 6 a.m.-11 a.m. natural store nearby. That means fill-in grocery shopping early Saturday or Sunday mornings.

    I have wondered about the Burley Travoy trailer. It goes like this: couple it to an apparent beater bike, go to store, leave beater bike locked up outside, bring the Travoy inside and load the groceries into it, scan and pay and load the groceries back in. Or some variation.

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  27. Here in Cheshire, England, we are miles away from having bike-friendly shopping. I blogged aboutthis recently at http://rideaday.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=49&action=edit
    Please take a look!

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  28. The shopping bike for larger loads (and larger aisles): the camioncyclette

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  29. Now that you mention it I noticed a cyclist walking his bike through my store. I don't do that, but I have walked my bike into the bank to use the automatic teller. And I've taken my bike up moving stair elevators... which is an acquired skill and is harder than I thought it would be.

    I read a great quote from Steve Jobs where he says 'Computers are like a bicycle for your brain'. So true... walking seems medieval in comparison.

    jn

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  30. Sometime can you post picture of your "shopping cart" Brompton.... I just can't visualize it.

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