It felt personal when Bob, the seafood guy at my Shaw’s supermarket, left his post as captain of the department.
Bob was one of the first people we met when we landed in North Deering. The girls were at Lyseth Elementary School and I rarely had the resources or the luxury of time to head to the Old Port docks for the daily haul.
Instead, I’d scour the little section to the left of the Shaw’s seafood display case for locally sourced fish that had one day left before being tossed – not back to the sea, but into the dumpster. Bob would often point out the best deals while telling me about his grandchildren in New Hampshire, and he often asked about my girls.
Like many things impacted by the pandemic, grocery stores have changed. Prices are higher and shelves are often empty. We’re seeing long checkout lines resulting from the low-wage, “take this job and shove it” rebellion. Most of all, we’re experiencing consumer weariness – about disease, masks, non-vaxxers, reusable bags left at home, and everything else that gives us anxiety these days. And that’s a lot.
This train of thought was the topic of conversation between a neighbor and me while assessing the job the plow company did on our community parking spaces. When I randomly asked if he knew Bob the seafood guy, he nodded his head and mumbled his response from behind a mask covered by a Patriots scarf.
“Bob was a great guy,” he said. “Once he told me to buy bagged extra-large frozen shrimp because it was a good product and better deal than the stuff in the case. Where is he these days, anyway?”
I was reluctant to tell him about the Westbrook Shaw’s closing, so I shrugged and headed back to the house to make my weekly grocery list that would not include salmon marked down by 50 percent.
I should have made the trip to Westbrook, but I didn’t. Instead, I’ve joined the millions of Americans who are utilizing home-delivery services or curbside pickup. I always thought of these services as exclusive, expensive, and well, bougie. Plus, I like to physically roam the supermarket aisles, look at the products, compare pricing, and read labels. But, I also like the safety, convenience, and variety of options available through a delivery service.
At-home grocery delivery requires research. Amazon’s Whole Foods delivery orders were free for all shoppers with Prime memberships, but they started charging a $9.95 delivery fee in our market last year. Instacart offers membership for $99 a year or $9.99 per month. They’ll deliver from anywhere, big-box stores to 7-Eleven, with a $35 minimum order. Hannaford has grocery and pharmacy pickup or delivery from many locations. Walmart offers free grocery curbside pickup or delivery and promises identical pricing to in-store shopping, which is not the case with Instacart. BJ’s boasts same-day delivery service and is offering an incentive of $15 off orders of $150.00 for curbside pickup.
Reading the fine print and staying on top of ever-enticing hooks is almost as time-consuming as driving to the store and doing your shopping. Keep the “buyer beware” warning in your head and make sure you can use your digital coupons, loyalty cards, and once again, that the prices are the same as in-store shopping. Be on the alert for prompts about substitutions if an item isn’t available – it could be a more expensive or lesser-quality product. Try to make friends with your picker, too; in some stores, like Target, they’ll get to know what you like and will text you about substitutions.
Be aware of delivery fees regardless of the minimum order amount, even if you have a membership or loyalty card, and don’t ignore a tip for the picker or delivery person; this is one place not to skimp or save money.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the many grocery delivery options available. But I believe the only thing that would make the process perfect is if Bob the seafood guy took on the picker/delivery job as a side hustle.
Maybe then I’d be confident enough to order fish.
Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.