It was the best of stores, it was the worst of stores….well, nothing is that simple.New Westminster residents, like folks all over, develop a preference for grocery stores. Those of us habituated to the 6th Ave. Safeway in the Royal City Center have had our choice expanded as the Save on Foods has recently opened in New Westminster Center, on 6th st. Like anything, our individual choices will be based on a number of factors including location, layout, staff, selection and price. While it is impossible to say one is the best of stores and one is the worst of stores, your author has gum-shoed around the two uptown establishments to get the skinny on your neighbourhood grocers.
Leaving aside pricing differences, I will start with my impressions. Initial impressions of the new Save on Foods store on 6th St are mixed. The store is small and tightly packed. It feels crowded even when there are few shoppers. The merchandisers have made good use of every inch of space and it is well organized. The parking lot is smallish and the spaces are very close together. I can imagine that on a busy day a driver would have to be patient as the parking and departing cars carefully negotiated the narrow spaces. The store itself is very well lit, the staff are few but helpful, the checkouts feature a self check-out option, a feature I have seen in other stores that always seems to take longer than a professional cashier. I will test those another time. The carts are all new and they behave themselves. The kiddie carts are at the customer service desk and are shaped like a space shuttle. It should be noted that the kiddie carts can not be taken down to the parkade as they are not suited to the escalator-ramp. A parent parked in the underground lot will have to transfer the groceries to a standard cart or use carry out service. One thing that stood out in this store was the bulk foods section. There is a very wide assortment of goods to choose from here, easily double the choice at Safeway. It is well organized, clearly signed and it features easy to use dispensers, including coffee beans, nuts, staples, candies, cereals, etc.
I can’t quite remember if this was a “Food Barn” store or “Super Valu” but in my childhood, I remember the same space being used for grocery store purposes. Like the mini-golf and the old Westminster Mall shopping mall before it, the space seemed bigger then. Now, the building has undergone the latest in a series of renovations, making this building one of the most often re-used structures in the city. It was rebuilt to LEED standards; the first platinum rating in the province but I wonder if any of that environmental ethic was passed on to the choice of produce coolers, refrigeration units and other electricity guzzling retail furniture. Overall, despite the crowded feeling, I found the shopping experience pleasant.
For the Safeway store, tucked in the western end of the Royal City Center on 6th Ave across from the Library, my experiences there are familiar as they are to many New Westminster citizens. The parking lot is large and offers more space to move around but always seems busy. The store itself is less well lit but it is much bigger and spread out. It is always buzzing with customers and it is hard to go through the store without one or more of the numerous staff asking if they can help. The cashiers are so familiar, you know which ones to avoid and which ones might remember your two-year-old’s name. It is a pretty easy shop with few surprises. It features a full pharmacy and florist and the bakery seems a bit more capable. While I buy all of my meat from Pete at the Queen’s Park Meat Market on 2nd st, Safeway seems to always have butchers on duty cutting and packaging meat and fish.
Like the new Save on Foods, longtime residents are familiar with having a grocery store in this part of town as it is roughly in the same position as the Woodward’s Food Floor. Customers at Safeway can trundle their carts right out into the parking lot or the sidewalk with no additional stairs, ramps or escalators. The store offers two rather dilapidated kiddie carts.
For the price comparison, I used the Official Tenth to the Fraser Sample Grocery List. This is my best guess at the products that are most relevant for my family and the average New Westminsterite. While I will try to compare regular prices as much as possible, much of the selection is on sale at any given time. Where relevant I have included additional sale pricing info. Prices as of Aug 2, 2009.
It is difficult to find a true pattern here. With some exceptions, staples may be cheaper at Safeway and all of the extras cheaper at Save on Foods. Price is not everything of course and the minor differences in prices may even themselves out in a full grocery cart.
A note about both grocery stores: why do they have to display magazines with disgusting headlines at kiddie eye level at the cashiers? We have no choice but to see them. Our kids have no choice but to see them. It is invariably a Cosmopolitan magazine cover that shouts “How to be an Orgasm Whisperer” or “100 sex moves to make him beg”. Now bikini models are one thing but can you imagine your four year old, just learning to read asking “daddy, what is a bad girl sex trick?” I am always compelled to cover them or the most offensive covers in any store that displays this text at the front cashiers. I agree that this is a bizarre tactic but I encourage all of you to do the same. Protecting the brains of 4 year olds is not a religious goal as anyone that knows me will attest. I just think it is the right thing to do.
Lastly, these are not the only two stores in New Westminster. There are a number of smaller operations, produce marts, butchers etc. Wal-Mart sells groceries in Queensborough, McBride Safeway, IGA at 10th and Columbia and many shop outside the city for the lower prices at Price Smart Foods on Marine and (much cheaper) Super Store on Lougheed near Maillardville.
Like me, you may do much of your shopping at the Farmers Market and in locally oriented businesses. Whatever the case, tell us about your best grocery deals and how you navigate the food-retail labyrinth. We would love to know. If there is keen interest, Tenth to the Fraser could make a regular series on the subject. Perhaps a price savvy customer base may result in lower prices. Use the comment button below to register your experiences.