We're Mourning the Death of Our Beloved Local Grocery Store; Big Chains Remain
A few months ago when I heard our neighborhood market was closing, I knew it wasn’t good news. We’d be without fresh produce, basic groceries, a nice wine selection and a few gourmet-ish treats within walking distance.
I wasn’t prepared for how bad it’s been. It’s amazing that one little business has caused a complete change in my lifestyle and a shift in our neighborhood’s personality.
Every time I go by the papered-over windows of the former Mulier’s Market on Kercheval Street in Grosse Pointe Park, I feel the localized pain of national progress.
With a rebuilt Kroger and a new Trader Joe’s a mile or so up the road and a population willing to drive miles on freeways for big box and discount stores, Mulier’s couldn’t or wouldn’t hold on. Most customers think they want bigger aisles, more parking and super cheap prices, I guess.
Still, many of us prefer what Mulier’s offered: the personalized shopping experience and the ability to walk to the store, tie our dog outside while we grabbed some fresh offerings for dinner or enjoyed the “impulse buy” cookie while sitting on a shaded park bench in front of the store.
But despite the attention to “Main Street” and “family values” every election cycle, that’s not the modern reality of our national economy or demonstrated lifestyles. American consumers prefer saving a few cents on rolls of toilet paper and buying processed food in bulk sizes rather than a friendly store staff.
We as a society make a trip to the grocery store an event, not part of a daily or couple-times-weekly routine to pick up what’s fresh for dinner. We think we need a massive selection offered in millions of square feet of shelf space. We want to pile giant shopping carts high with packaged products. We stock our pantries with multiple bags of flour, cans of soup, bottles of juice and other stuff we might need.
I get it: we’re busy. We need to plan our time. We need to get the list completed and the errands done efficiently.
For 75 years three generations of the Mulier family sold groceries from the site at the Detroit end of the Pointes. They knew their customers by name, often suggesting a certain cheese, house-made dip or new wine they knew would satisfy our tastes.
The Muliers always asked about our families and kept us up to date on theirs: who was off to college, how a student-athlete was recovering from knee surgery.
They hired local teens to work the cash registers, generation after generation. Two of the recent ones were sons of grown up friends of mine. They’d tell me about their classes and sometimes filled me in on their parents’ antics. We had conversations.
That seems to have been a tradition at the little store for decades. I met a grey-haired gentleman yesterday who spent seven years tallying produce, meats and cereal for Mulier’s customers. He still lives nearby and works in the area too. He used to walk to work at Mulier’s and now he rides his bike to his office down the street. I wonder how many other good-living habits Mulier’s started.
Neighborhood rumors abound about the future of the market’s former site, with a new restaurant apparently planned. That would be great: a small business to provide some jobs, a neighborhood gathering place, an independently owned operation that might have some of the same “personality” of the former grocery.
But it still means I have to “travel” to get my groceries, and that makes me miss my neighborhood market. Instead of trotting up to Mulier’s when I need some ingredient for dinner, I either have to make a special trip to the store or plan to shop at Honey Bee Market or Holiday Market, for example, when my work takes me to those neighborhoods.
As I walked by Mulier’s site this morning, construction workers had the doors thrown open, flood lights on and music blaring. They weren’t there but later in the day I saw one and asked him what it was going to be. He said he didn’t know.
As we stood near the doorway, my dog tried to pull me in the doors like he did when there were meats, pretzels and other forbidden treats on the counters there.
But he stopped, sniffed and backed out when only dust greeted him.
We continued on.
He too realizes there’s nothing for him there anymore.