Sunday, May 13, 2007

Giant Disappointment

A neighborhood grocery store isn't just a place to buy yogurt. Most of us have long term relationships with our local store. I've been shopping at the Laurel Center Giant since 1980. It was the first store I dated when I moved to Laurel 27 years ago.

Over the years Giant 340 has deteriorated but I stuck with her. We all age and good friends are supposed to look the other way. Besides, I knew the people. I knew where to find the kidney beans. I was too comfortable with my Giant to see the growing problems.

I stuck with it during her big face lift a few years ago. I kept thinking that Giant's corporate leadership would reinvigorate store 340 after the renovation. But there has been no real improvement.

My last three visits were particularly worrisome. The parking lot and store entrance were in bad shape. Debris and dirt everywhere. Carts were all over the lot. Bags and papers blowing around the front of the store like tumbleweed. I tried to grab a hand basket at the front door but each was filled with the detritus of previous customers.

I wanted to buy a beefsteak but the selection in the meat counter looked, not just bad, but possibly dangerous. Long lines greeted me at the checkout. I like to use the self-serve check outs but only two worked. The other self serve machines have been broken for months. I don't think Giant loves me anymore.

The obvious problems are getting worse. There is no use trying to work it out this time. My 27 year relationship is over. Today was my last visit to Giant Foods store 340.

I'm back on the grocery dating circuit after 27 years. Do you have a store for me? It must be close to Oldtown and have a good selection of kidney beans. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.


Jackie said...


I agree with you WHOLEheartedly. We rarely shop at Giant anymore for all of the reasons you mentioned and more. It's disappointing that a store so near to our home is not worth the effort.

Instead, we frequent the Bottom Dollar most often, and Shoppers for the few things we can't get at BD. Bottom Dollar normally has an amazing produce/meat section, their prices are fabulous, the store is generally clean and bright -- I was a disbeliever at first, but they have won me over. Sorry Giant.

Grace Fuller said...

We had been faithful Giant customers since 1977, and of #340 since 1990. Giant had always been the class act among supermarkets here, in our experience, and IIRC the innovators of price scanning, bonus cards, porn-free checkouts, customer advocates, even the humble shopping cart, 70 years ago.

But upon the death of founder Israel Cohen in 1987, the chain began a long and ignominious slide down the tubes. Long-time employees at #340 know this as well as we do. Finding some problem such as you describe there one day, my wife remarked to the Meat Manager that it never would have happened when Mr. Cohen was alive, and the manager wearily replied, "Lady, you got that right."

So when Bottom Dollar opened, I went for it, despite the insulting and unsavory name (I call it "Assbuck's"). They don't have the selection that Giant has even now, they close at 10, and their fresh fruit is inedible, but at least I don't feel like a need a shower after shopping there.

Lisa said...

Giant has been losing me in the last few months too. It's sad since I intentionally have gone there since the remodel. I was pleased with their increased organic and international selections, but so much you mentioned is going wrong in that store. I think yesterday was my last visit.

I like the Weis stores - the new ones and find even the old one less aggravating. I don't like Bottom Dollar, but I do run out to Bloom at 216 and 29. The new Shopper's Food Warehouse at contee and rte 1 is very nice, worth visiting if you have not. Most of the SFW in my experience were very low end and I avoided them - this one totally changed my view. The Safeway since it was remodeled a few years ago has a more limited selection but nicely laid out. I am trying to think of why I don't shop there might have been a seafood/meat problem, but I think t was more likely that they were always missing a critical item or two on my list. I make special trips to the health food store and trader joes periodically, but having to go to two regular grocery stores drives me insane.

For meat, frequent the Laurel Meat Market. At this point in the DC area there are only 3 or 4 real butchers. We have one, they're worth patronizing. They dry age beef as long as the fancy New York steak houses. It's worth it. I was involved in a taste test pitting the meat market, giant, and several steak house steaks for a newspaper article. Laurel Meat Market was the clear winner. Supermarket meat was disgusting by comparison. They do smell like a real butcher with all that meat aging on site. Don't be afraid.

Where do folks buy fish around here? Anyone used the food wholesale places in Jessup?

At 175 and Rt 1 in Jessup, the local natural chain, MOM's has opened. They have one in college park too. They're also the pickup point for the local CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share I bought for the summer.

Soon there will be a trader joe's built in the other side of that intersection along with a costco and a best buy. Laurel Health Food store carries a lot of items I use too.

Anonymous said...

I FINALLY found our family's favorite cereal at Giant (I'd been making special trips to Trader Joes (TJ) for it) in the "Health Food" isle (why there, instead of in the cereal isle?).

Opened the box and popped a few in my mouth before pouring the milk. Yich! Clearly stale! I checked the box, and it was 3 months expired. Similar experience the previous month with a large package of chicken breasts: if I'd rememberd to check the date before I purchased, I'd have seen that it was scratched off and un-readable!

I look forward to the new TJs coming in up north...when that happens I'll kill to birds with one stone and do all my shopping trips to TJs then Mom's


Karl Brendle said...

I stopped going to Giant some time ago. When Izzy Cohen died, Giant went with him. The store is completely indifferent to its customers, especially at the pharmacy counter, which I abandoned for the wonderful Main Street Pharmacy. Thankfully, we will have some new grocery stores coming in the not too distant future, :)

Rick Wilson said...

Thanks everyone for the grocery shopping suggestions. My wife has become a big fan of the SFW at Contee Rd.

Billy Miles Main Street Meat Market is the best in the state. No exceptions. I would have gone there yesterday but he was closed when I started shopping for dinner. (I was shopping for a Mother's Day meal for Joanne, a bit later than I planned. Shame on me.)

I'm a big fan of Trader Joe's. It will be great to get one close.

It is too bad we have lost our Giant. It will take me a long time to get over store 340. But since Izzy Cohen stopped visiting his horses at Laurel Park on Sundays, it has gone steadily down hill.

See you all at the store!


Anonymous said...

Like Rick, our family has shopped at Giant for many years, and stuck with the store through the renovations and management changes. I even tried to give it some positive encouragement in my Laurel Leader Old Town column: considering the disruption caused by the renovation/expansion, I thought then-manager Reggie Peterson did a good job maintaining a level of sanity as well as service. Sadly, it’s been downhill since then. Peterson’s successor, Ali Bradley, never put his picture in the “Manager” frame in the lobby of the store, even after a gentle reminder. I don’t know if Mr. Bradley is currently the manager, but the frame is still empty. You know a grocery store is in trouble when the manager doesn’t want people to know who he or she is.

To their credit, the store did install the Smart Cart system to address the wandering shopping cart problem, one of my pet peeves. But technology couldn’t overcome determined and thoughtless shoppers. Combine that with a “Blame the customer” attitude by the store, and carts continue to litter our neighborhood. While it’s true that it’s knuckleheaded shoppers who walk off with the carts, the bottom line is that the carts are “Property of Giant Food”, and the store makes only a minimum effort to retrieve them.

So I’ve thrown in the towel. It pains me to say so, because we can walk to that store. But the shopping carts, the lack of sale items, the disinterested attitude of employees (don’t get my wife Jackie started on the deli service), just wore us down. And when I discovered the Laurel Lakes Safeway, and their 180ยบ difference in customer service attitude, I decided to speak with my wallet and shop there.
Mike McLaughlin

Laurin Morrison said...

What is interesting is that according to Washington Checkbook, Giant is THE highest price grocery store in the Washington Metro area. And, it's not only YOUR Giant that is having problems.

We live in Aspen Hill, and have been shopping at the same Giant for almost 14 years. Over about the last five years (since the company was bought out by a company in the Netherlands), all our local Giant stores have stopped stocking items I normally buy. I've asked that they be reordered, and was told that the item are no longer on their "Order Program." Am I talking about items on the far end of the bell curve? How about powdered laundry soap in family sized boxes (rather than young single, apartment sized boxes)? How about powdered Borax (a laundry booster) that has been a staple at Giant since it first started business? How about ground beef ... not available in the Aspen Hill store at all between Saturday evening and Tuesday (when the next order comes in)? You can also forget about getting cigarette lighters (annoying to a smoker who buys her cigarettes at Giant), or fresh Rosemary, or granular toilet bowl cleaner (Vanish or Saniflush), or Ricotta cheese if you want to make lasagna, or Dole's Citrus Salad (a mix of orange and grapefruit sections in a can ... yes, they have the Dole Tropical Fruit Salad in a plastic jar at twice the price of the canned Citrus Salad ... but my kids absolutely refuse to eat mango), or Carbona stain remover, or or or ...

I now do a grocery shopping trifecta ... Costco, Shoppers, and, for those things that are hard to find, either Safeway or our local hardware store for cleaning products.

The old tellers at our Giant are gone, replaced by 17 year old kids who don't know the stock and listen to their Ipods while working. The store manager has changed every six months in the last three years.

Like you folks in Laurel, I've voted with my wallet ... but it's made ZERO impact on the Giant coroporation, as have my roughly 20 letters sent to the corporate office.

Rick Wilson said...

Laurin: Thanks for the insight. I'm sorry to hear Giant is no better in MOCO than it is here in PG. All this time I just thought they disliked us.

Lisa said...

I think it's more insidious...I predict the older smaller stores get the brunt of the neglect, but not so much in the new, bigger stores. (in the old giant days I think they had letter grades? the A giants. We're probably a C Giant - safeway used colors to code theirs I blue red?) Last year I shopped in the Giant in Clarksville, (108 and 32) and it wins the prize for most expensive Giant I've ever walked in to. More expensive it seems to my surprise than the quite excellent independent natural foods store, Roots, across the street. I'd like to do a little shopping in some newer stores and see if they're experiencing the same. I know they are in the process of severely cutting back on fish counter (comes packaged) and bakery. Lot of meat and fish I buy at the regular grocery comes home nearly rotten, so buying something in plastic wrap reassures me not at all.

Anonymous said...

Rick, you should send this link and comments along to Giant's PA office. If you can find them.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so it's not just me. We have shopped at 340 for about 10 years and tried to stick with it.

However, I have noticed that many of the organic products that I was excited to see on the shelf are no longer available. I don't eat beef and the turkey options that used to be abundant have become sparse. We love fresh fruits and vegetables but that section is a joke. It's hit or miss with the fresh herbs; they are always out of the Schmidt wheat bread (it seems that 12 loaves is the max they carry); you can't find fresh french bread; and on and on.

I don't like the Weis on All Saints either - there seems to be a stinch all the time. SFW leaves a lot be desired for meat and fresh veggies as well.

I am excited about the MOMS but I would love to have a Whole Foods. I like to sneaking off to the one in VA on my lunch break - the deli, fish and meat counters make a girl blush!!

RickNMd said...

The Shopper's at Contee is a very, very nice store. And now Shopper's carries ONLY Smithfield Angus beef. You can actually get a nice cut of meat. I also like the fact that Shopper's offers a good selection of international stuff.

One step in the new Shopper's at Contee, do a little price comparing, and you'll never step into another Giant. Ever.

Emily said...

I've been going to the Giant there for years. I have noticed in the last couple of months at the Pharmacy that they have gotten rid of the few "dimbulbs" they had recently hired so that has gotten better.

But I have had so many bad experiences with their meat I have to really consider if I want to buy there. I do like Shopper's, and last weekend I drove down to Trader Joe's which I love - although meat is not something I'd buy there. I am happy to hear they're putting one up in Savage.

Sorina E said...

Lisa, great posts. Like you, I buy most of my groceries from various stores. My main goal is to support the small local stores. So for meat & seafood I go the the Main Street Meat Market (the quality and the service are amazing). Too bad the produce selection is not very good. When in Laurel on Thursdays , I go to the Farmers' Market for produce (10-2pm).
I also shop at MOM's in Columbia East, I love the place, they have great selection and they are local. Plus they use 100% wind power and use paper not plastic grocery bags. I also signed up for a CSA share this summer. This and my little veggie garden should do until November. Occasionally we shop at Costco, but I have to admit I feel bad about it. So who needs Giant anyway?

Jessica said...

I'm a Weis girl myself, having grown up thisclose to 216 and All Saints Road. Actually, "Weis" became my nickname in college because so much of the food in my pantry was the store brand. The Weis on Rt. 1 by Gorman is nice too, although that may be a bit out of your way. Their prices are much cheaper than Giant, I've found, and getting one of those Preferred Shoppers Club cards is definitely worth the investment (FREE!)

Although, truth be told, I'm trying to shop more and more at the Laurel Meat Market. It's easier for me to afford now because I'm only shopping for two, not for a family yet. It's not that their prices or products are so much better than other places, but it's a good way to support Main Street businesses. I'll spend the extra few dollars to put money into independent grocers.

Thanks, Rick! Good topic!

Jessica Johnson

PS - Bloom scares me. It's like the Disneyland of grocery stores.

Anonymous said...

All the the Giant Stores are equally disappointing now. I've watched the decline for several years now and its a joke. Meat selection is weak, few have a real bakery, and the longtime friendly employees have been run off by management. Now, we shop at Safeway. (Manassas)