Abandoned Healthy Shopper Market deli

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - D13

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 6 Oct 2023


Healthy Shopper Market beer section A potential empire in ruins

 

Catching even the top brass off guard, this bombshell about the closure sends Duane, Rob, and Mr. Locke immediately scrambling for a replacement store. Though they make a weak attempt at arguing with the strip mall’s landlord, his non-response offers additional proof that there is no loyalty in this industry, possibly the business world, period. Ten years ago nobody wanted to set up shop in this blighted district, in this building that even Harry Teet had vacated, and it was considered brave if quite likely disastrous that such a small company as Healthy Hippie Market was willing to roll the dice. Fast forward to the present tense and, with their store having been hailed all along as one of the key factors in revitalizing this district, this area south of downtown is booming, there’s a fancy new Cost Merchant under construction just a couple of blocks away. Now the Teet corporation wants back in the game and, as soon as HSM’s lease expires, they are kicking in considerable cash for the landlord to raze this entire strip mall, to help build him a brand new one with their store as the centerpiece.

The bosses here are not only worried about the loss of momentum, but some potential snowball ramifications as well. One is the volume discount received from various suppliers. If Southside is knocked out from under them and they don’t replace these sales, then the volume discount is threatened, which means either reduced profits or raising retails to hit their expected margins. The Universal Foods discount for example has gone from 16% to 18 and all the way up to 21% now, across the board on everything. To scale that back even a percentage or two could be catastrophic.

Of course, in an ideal fantasy world, you dream that the landlord was actually required to exercise some measure of fairness, and negotiate with his longterm tenants instead. But no, the deal is already pushed through before he even bothers to inform them. And despite the lip service given to supporting locally based businesses, especially small, privately owned ones, it isn’t as though the politicians are of any help whatsoever. To run with this idealistic daydream, it would also be nice if a deal like this required approval from some committee, before they were just booted out onto the street.

It isn’t as though these land barons are strapped for cash. Even throughout a major recession, Healthy Shopper Market continue cutting some pretty hefty checks every month — and they are quite obviously considered small potatoes. The rent at South is $13,000, while Palmyra’s deal is even sweeter. For building owner Autry Doyle, that is, who not only gets about the same amount (as Edgar would know, having printed these checks himself for a year and a half) but also a certain percentage of the store’s sales.

Duane’s long harbored a belief that the local officials secretly have it out for them. Whether subscribing to something quite this paranoid, however, they are certainly fighting an uphill battle. City leaders might publicly espouse a dedication to the single proprietor, but the real message is that they would rather have the fat cats succeed, that they desperately need the major players to win out, and if it’s at the expense of the small time business owner, then this is just too bad. Assuming you were able to assemble some committee and force them to approve these deals, the results would surely prove a laughable waste of time. The entire minutes for such an assembly would probably run something like this:

Okay, and how many tax dollars did Cost Merchant say this deal would generate? Seriously? Alright, that’s it, boys. Meeting adjourned.

With impressive swiftness, though, Duane and company are able to secure an excellent new location, on Central Avenue, in what is yet another trendy neighborhood on the rise. In fact some believe this midtown district could replace the artsy one on the hipness scale, within a few short years. This currently empty, former grocery store is even situated along the only sizable free public parking lot in the midtown region, which is also ideal. Having already signed the contract, they go to work on securing the necessary permits, while beginning to remodel the interior. Once again, even though Duane is handling these permits this time around himself, everything drags out much longer than expected, and it begins to appear that the city is stalling on purpose.

He eventually gets one local bureaucrat to admit as much, although the reason given is that they allegedly fear Chesboro is growing too fast, and they are attempting to tamp this acceleration. Funny how this wasn’t a problem with the new Southside megacenter, which is being whisked right along. It’s already apparent that they have no chance of even getting into the new store before being booted out of this current one, which leads to their next series of conundrums.

The first and most pressing concerns what to do with all this product. They don’t want to have too aggressive of a sale, nor strip shelves down to the bone, to where it costs them a potential cash register ring, but are rather attempting to bring the store down for as soft a landing as possible. In some departments, most notably produce, frozen, dairy and deli/meat, they will in fact attempt to liquidate as much as they can, but there’s a good 75% in the middle which will require moving to a storage facility.

The second question is what to do with these people. To that end, Duane secures a charming little redbrick office, on the backside of the same strip mall as the Central store, which will become vacant in a few more months. Until then they have to bide their time in whatever fashion they can, most of them setting up temporary shop at the store of their choosing. Edgar would like to work out of Palmyra, but the internet there is so spotty that he’s not even about to attempt this on his laptop. The third computer up in the Palmyra office might be feasible, the farthest one down, which houses the ScaleMonster program, too…except that whoever built this long shelf that these computers rest upon, it was constructed at more of a standing height. He knows the standing-while-working thing is all the rage right now, but is not exactly eager to volunteer for this, for 8 hours a day, without ever attempting it before. They have some really tall chairs that will make sitting there for short stretches bearable, yet nobody has found one which has proven a viable all day solution.

Healthy Shopper Market produce section

Atypically, he manages to get his point across to Felix in a timely fashion concerning this, however. There’s an empty table at the far end of the receiver’s office, off the back dock, which already has one community computer on the near side. All Felix needs to do is run another broadband cable from there, over to this table, and he does so without much prodding.

And so for the next few months, this is Edgar’s home away from home. This back dock office was constructed after the fact, out of concrete blocks which were subsequently painted a muted yellow, and doesn’t quite reach to the ceiling. This means that dust from the smoker, on the other side of these blocks, is constantly raining down upon this room. It will require a thorough dusting every few days, then, but is otherwise doable.

As always, other shakeups abound, not all of them even remotely bad. Zaire Patterson, for whatever reason, has no interest in driving over to Central for work, and serves her two weeks’ notice with little fanfare before leaving. This is a high five worthy moment, for sure. In other news, it’s announced that Craig’s brother-in-law Michael, who’s done a great job in grocery over at Arcadia, he will become the new assistant manager at Palmyra. A position which has only become available because Brian Prentiss, who lives in a really nice condo about a beer cap’s throw away from the Central store, wishes to transfer here. The store management type positions are just about sewn up, so he’s going to pick up a few entrees from Vince’s untouched plate — produce and bulk merchandiser — and thereby ensuring the surely exhausted and overwhelmed Mr. Brancatto only has grocery remaining, to not lose any sleep over.

As far as the future Central office, Valerie is left in charge of putting their brand new digs together, from buying furniture, to sending updates with and without pictures, to figuring out the seating arrangement. There’s a sizeable conference room at the entrance, a little kitchen area and restrooms in the back left. Duane’s more spacious office in the front right, with four others behind it which will seat about two people apiece.

Edgar and Valerie are not nearly as close as before, but still as friendly with one another as ever. They did go out for lunch exactly once during his year and a half as the AP person, but have remained in contact throughout, mostly professionally, though also bumping into each other socially a couple of times as well. The most obvious changes are that Edgar’s married now, while she is finally, permanently off with the former boyfriend, and has since moved onto a different serious relationship herself.

Yet the dynamic of their interactions at work hasn’t changed one whit. And indeed, now that they are moving into this cozy, adorable little office, with some of the undesirables having already shipped out, there’s this sense that a tight, dependable core is forming of those who are sticking around. Most of them have been through untold battles together at this point, get along well, and don’t plan on going anywhere. Even the store switch from Southside to Central isn’t all that troublesome, in that they will soon have an even more modern looking base, and it’s projected to do roughly the same amount of business.

Fortune has already begun smiling on them, too, by ensuring that their new offices don’t become a little too cozy. The reason Valerie is only trying to cram one more desk in there is because she no longer has to cram two more desks in there, due to a position being completely eliminated for the time being. This happened when Corey Brown announced that he was quitting.

It could well be that Corey’s star has dimmed somewhat, although this is pure speculation. Edgar never heard anything to this effect — he only noticed one day that there was a lot less talk this time around, as in zero, about Corey heading up this or being in charge of that, related to the new store opening. What is undeniably the case is that Corey seems disgruntled, as though he suddenly realized that this company was not his meal ticket to everlasting fame and wealth. The Obamas would not be inviting him to dinner anytime soon. Becoming a regional manager for Universal Foods might yet pave this avenue for him, however, so he decides to make this career change.

Edgar’s in Palmyra during what is Corey’s second-to-last day. Felix had not yet gotten around to installing the internet cable back to Edgar’s new desk, so he’s out in the cafe area, plowing through invoices on his laptop. He actually took this cue from Vicky Fisher, who is also operating out of Palmyra for the time being. She became so fed up with the poor internet signal in the break room, where they are supposed to be working, that she came out here, unplugged the microwave from its extension cord, sat down to work while charging her laptop here instead.

The internet is one of the things they have continually complained about in this store. Every six months or so, it feels like they are being told that Felix has fixed or upgraded such and such, but it still sucks. The break room especially is like a concrete underground bunker and often gets no signal whatsoever. It’s kind of like how this store has remained bone chillingly cold everywhere except for these weird air pockets every employee has memorized, even though R.A. Dalton have allegedly fixed and upgraded systems to the tune of once or twice a year. One day Edgar was working in an aisle and his teeth were chattering, his hands halfway numb, as Corey coincidentally breezed through and boasted with a smile that he just had the heat fixed in this place. Edgar merely nods and says oh yeah? really? that’s cool, that’s cool as he drifts from where he’s standing, over to one of those memorized hot air pockets, to warm up while Corey’s going on about these improvements. He’s thinking, um, are we really so sure about this? but doesn’t have the heart to disagree.

Now, on this penultimate day, Corey’s eating a lunch at a nearby table, not looking particularly joyous, more reminiscent perhaps of a prisoner with his last meal. Somehow, as they are facing one another a mere table apart, they cannot quite avoid a brief, semi-convivial chat. Edgar asks him if he’s excited about his new job, and Corey agrees that this is so. Doesn’t seem overly concerned about the plight of this place, though, which is maybe understandable, although then again Healthy Shopper Market is one of the accounts in his region. Instead, he conjures up a strange question, which might indicate a great deal about where his head is at.

“Isn’t it a pain to not have an office?” he asks Edgar.

“Eh, not really,” Edgar shrugs with one shoulder, “I don’t mind. It’s something different. Besides,” he can’t resist adding, sweeping one hand to indicate this pile of invoices, both because it’s true but also because he knows it’s a sore subject, is seemingly the subject that, for whatever reason, first began to sour their relations, “I can pretty much do this job from anywhere.”

Corey makes his standard, not the least bit amused half smile, accompanied by a single nod of the head. A few minutes later, they part ways, and it’s always strange to consider that this is their last ever conversation, be it in person, or via email, phone, text, whatever. At one point they were chummy enough to attend a concert together, years ago, but it all went south after that. Something about Edgar has left a bad taste in his craw. To his knowledge, Corey will only make one ever visit to the offices at Central. On that day, he makes an elaborate show of poking his head into every office and saying hello to its occupants, save one — he skips Edgar’s entirely, keeps right on moving past it.

But things are progressing far too rapidly to dwell upon any of this. As everything is gradually stripped down at Southside, Karen inherits Edgar’s old desk, which is somehow the largest in the company and hers the only remaining room that will hold it. Too nice to pitch, however, apparently, and she’s more than happy to make this switch.

And other, much more substantial changes continue flying at them, at a breakneck pace. By appearances possibly grasping some things that went haywire with Arcadia’s opening — nobody considers the Walnut experiment to be useful or for that matter “real” — Duane has involved everyone else to a far greater degree from the outset with Central. Clearly, those grand overseer types who were supposed to be experts on and supervise every aspect of the operation, these had not really panned out. This time around he’s pretty much leaving the key decisions to the people who work with that particular aspect on a daily basis. What a novel concept, that.

They’re even involved to a considerable degree with the planning. Although Rob and Duane and to a lesser extent Mr. Locke are making most of the design decisions, numerous meetings are hosted with blueprints and diagrams, where the merchandisers and department heads, and Destiny and Craig, Melissa and Edgar are kept abreast of decisions, are encouraged to offer input. Throughout this process, a number of them can’t help thinking: this is one time that we are getting it right. Despite the upheaval, and the city officials dragging their feet, this process has been beautiful.

One other associated offshoot of getting things right (with Corey, just maybe, the first example of this) is that you are also able to jettison people who aren’t with the program. At every single meeting, Executive Beer Hipster Jake Gifford continually attempts hijacking discussions by insisting they need to really ramp up the alcohol operation at this location, increasing its size, adding a growler station, maybe even a little bar type area, you name it. For the most part everyone just tolerates this, though shooting his suggestions down, up until the day he has interrupted Rob one too many times. Rob, the only person standing, is pointing out the latest updates to the blueprint, and Jake has insisted for about the third time today that they need to have a growler station. Rob stops mid-sentence, cranes his neck and stares down the table at Jake, not in a menacing fashion, but as if he would really like to ask, what is your deal, dude? Can you not take a hint?

Stripped of his only true supporter around these parts, seemingly grasping at last that he wasn’t going to shoehorn some beer and wine empire into Healthy Shopper Market, Jake is the next one to quit. From here he slides directly into a gig at this trendy little craft beer shop, diagonally west from them, along Central. Therefore Gifford is in fact now working for…the guy across the street.

His departure also clears the last remaining obstacle within Valerie’s seating chart. As Brian readily agrees to add alcohol to his stable of departments, they can permanently bid adieu to the Beer Hipster position. Therefore beyond Duane’s front office, they are broken off into packs of two: Dale and Vicky; Brian and Vince; Valerie and Park. Edgar and…Barbara.

“What!?” he playfully protests, with a laugh, when she springs this seating chart upon him.

“We’ve all had the Barbara experience,” Valerie says, beaming back at him, “your turn!”

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jasonmcgathey
jasonmcgathey

I am a professional writer with 8 published books under my belt. And many other unpublished ones, in various stages of disarray.


Jason McGathey
Jason McGathey

Semi-Coherent Musings - from one of the leading masters of this questionable art form!

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