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News and Features
08.26.09

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A California Supermarket

Writer Stephen Kessler bids an ambivalent farewell to the old Safeway on Mission Street.

By Stephen Kessler


ACROSS TWO STREETS from my old house on Younglove Avenue, with only U Save Liquors in between, stood the sprawling monstrosity of the ancient Safeway, the Westside's sole supermarket, whose fluorescent glare could be experienced, with considerable aesthetic and psychic distress, deep after midnight when everything else was shut and you desperately needed a bottle of juice or a quart of ice cream that couldn't wait till morning. I needed that Safeway only a few nights that year I lived on Younglove, and was grateful then for its existence, yet at the same time hated its terrible architecture, its gleaming pyramids of manufactured fruit and its endless aisles of tasteless packages and glaring colors of a night owl's nightmares. Spread out on a single story across a parking lot wasteland dotted with cars at any hour, it looked to be the size of a football field.

This week I rode past on my Goodwill bike and found the store demolished, big Cats raking through the rubble with their steel claws, rats' nests of dead rebar piled in twisted heaps. It reminded me of downtown after the earthquake of '89, whole buildings deemed irreparably obsolete and taken down and carted off in block-long trucks, leaving strange voids. The Safeway building too was obsolete, not only ugly but forced finally out of the last century with its herd-mentality mass nutrition by competition from newly redesigned Westside New Leaf and eastside Whole Foods pushing their new environment- and health-obsessed mass-marketing strategies, turning the herds in new directions of consumption. The new behemoths had forced sclerotic old Safeway to throw up a new store.

So behind the chain link protecting an about-to-be-born-again parking lot of even vaster acreage than before arises the newer, grander, even more monstrous Safeway, now open, with its fresh aesthetics for the discriminating shopper, more choices and bargain-warfare for all, more food than half of Africa consumes in a year, and we of the Westside bask in an abundance of down-home produce and global imports and epic delicacies. But the old Safeway, the scene of emergency munchies-relief and glaring predawn panic attacks, of mainstream shopping experience in a pre-organic epoch, is gone.

I can almost mourn as I contemplate its remains.


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