A timely topic, Joe – I have just recently been lamenting the decline of the supermarket scene here in Houston. Grocery shopping is about the only type of shopping I enjoy and recently its become a pain in the you-know-what. I’ve always understood this is a very competitive market and it’s changing for the worse.
I’ve been in one of the two Central Market’s in Austin — the one on the south side of town. Altho the setting is a bit nicer, it’s basically the same as the one Central Market here. I went in looking for just one thing – sausage made by a certain Central Texas sausage maker of note – and I didn’t find it there but at an HEB on S. Congress at Oltorf (Central Market is owned by HEB).
The one here (in Houston) is on the edge of the richest neighborhood. I go only for speciality shopping needs. Prices on identical items are higher than at other HEB stores and the customers can be really rude, which is very unusual in Houston, generally a very friendly city. I also shop occasionally at Whole Foods, which is not far away.
CM has only one store here basically because there is so much competition from lots of ethnic markets, including some very large ones (Chinese and Vietnamese) where the prices are always better. I’d pick Wholefoods over CM.
We had 2 Auchan Hypermarkets here for years but they pulled out of the US completely a couple of years ago. They had a great cheese department, the best prices and nearly the best selection in town on beers, and a fairly good bakery, but the seafood department always smelled to high heaven. Their anniversary sales each year were incredible sales. It was a strange concept, I thought, a huge grocery store where you could also buy mattresses, tires, furniture. Sort of the reverse of the Wal-Mart Supercenter formula, a huge general merchandise store where you can also buy groceries. Auchan suffered because of the competition of W-M SCs on the one hand and the ethnic supermarkets on the other; I miss Auchan a little.
I’ve started compiling a list of requirements for my home the next time I move, which will probably be when I retire in a few years. On the list is a good, small, neighborhood grocery close by where I can do most of my shopping. I don’t mind having to travel for special items, but I like to go to a grocery store a couple of times a week rather than make one big trip a month or something. The trend toward larger and larger stores means I must expect to spend 45 mins to an hour shopping even if I need only a few items, walking from one end of the store to another and standing in longer check out lines, so it makes sense have a longer list and make fewer trips. But I’ve gotten so fed-up with big box stores and warehouse stores I let my membership at Sam’s lapse and I dread going grocery shopping.