Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Let’s trade!

Filed under : International,Stores
On July 2, 2007
At 1:30 am
Comments : 15

I haven’t concentrated enough on Brit-land, despite the Wimbledon goodness going on there, I know. Maybe it’s because it’s rained about 75% of the time. Maybe it’s because non-sporting events in Great Britain at the moment aren’t as light-hearted as my posts are usually toned, and I’m not talking about the Concert For Diana. But it wouldn’t be fair to the French and Australians if I didn’t turn my eye on the limeys our motherland, so here goes.

Dear Brits,

It looks like Whole Foods is opening in England! Bully for you! I’m going to parse the meaning of this article in the Telegraph about it and give you the real scoop on Whole Paycheck.

A grocery chain that has conquered the United States by selling ethical organic food without packaging will gain a foothold in Britain today.
Lies, all lies. Plenty of food at WF does, in fact, come in packages. Heh. She said packages.

Ostrich eggs, Incan berries and 21 varieties of tomatoes compete for shoppers’ attention alongside £80 bottles of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, 2001 vintage wine.
Forget this! Eggplant will run you £80! Bring credit cards.

A humidified cheese room keeps fresh the rounds of Beaufort, while downstairs customers peer through windows as staff make sausages.
Is this true? We don’t have this at our WF. Anyone? I’ve watched them make sushi but it’s kind of like watching the people at Ford turn out SUV’s.

Karin Gilles, a mother, who lives 200 yards away said: “I am sure I will pop in here once a month. But would I do my weekly food shop? It comes down to price. If it is any more expensive than Waitrose, then it’s unlikely.”
I’ve never been to Waitrose, Karin, but I’m going to say unequivocally, yes. But it all looks so good, that’s the problem. Two hundred yards away, you say? Oh, you’re in big trouble.

Most of its star products, especially the meat, are more expensive than from any rival. A whole organic chicken is more than £2 more expensive than in Tesco, for instance. However, it sells a range of goods that beats not just Waitrose, but also Tesco.
This is true. It’s a little-known fact that at least one out of every 25 products at WF is cheaper than at other stores. Best of luck finding it!

Part of Whole Foods’ secret is its lack of packaging. Couscous is dispensed from a large jar into plastic tubs, which customers are encouraged to bring back. They can also buy apples without shrink-wrap.
Wait, hold up, you don’t have this in the UK? There’s no “dispense yourself, weigh & pay” sort of thing? And apples only come in plastic? I don’t really believe this. Does the Telegraph actually grocery shop?

But only today will it know whether they are interested in ostrich eggs at £12.99.
Enough with the ostrich eggs! People actually do buy other things there, you know. Why, just last week I took a mortgage on my apartment and bought a container of blueberries. You heard me, it was in a package.

But this is all OK, it looks like you guys are returning the favor! Tesco is coming here! Of course, it will be called “Fresh and Easy” to appeal to the American market. After all, we are nothing if not fresh & easy.


PS, take your time with responding, we will be off for Independence Day.

The Soup Dragons – Whole Wide World


Welcome to Circuit City, where service is in a state of nonexistence

Filed under : Rants,Stores
On October 24, 2006
At 12:30 pm
Comments : 26

I know you spend your days pondering the following: “I wonder what the worst electronics & CD store on the entire earth is?” Because I love to answer questions, I’ll tell you that I know this one and I know it well. Yes, friends, it’s the Circuit City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Could there be a worse store for either electronics OR CD’s? How about customer service or the lack thereof?

I think last night might have been my final straw with them. But let me back up a little and just say that I have never, ever gone there with the intention of buying a non-new-release CD and actually found it. Sure, they have the stuff that was released last Tuesday, but their CD racks seem to be there just to tease you into thinking they might actually carry the pre-2006 CD you wanted. No sir!

And don’t bother asking anyone anything. They never know. I think my favorite customer “service” event happened last Christmastime when I went looking for a Discman for a gift for someone-or-other. My conversation with the salesguy went something like this:

Me: Do you have the El Cheapo brand Discman on sale in your flyer?
Him: I’m sorry, that’s not in my zone.
Me: Pardon?
Him: We each cover zones. The portable electronics zone is over there but the guy is on break.
Me: So you can’t step over 30 feet and show me where it is?
Him: I’ll get fired. Do you know what my rent is?

Uh, no. And I never found out. But that brings me to last night when I went with a friend of mine visiting from Israel, Naftali, whom I’m namechecking shamelessly to ensure he’ll read my blog from now on. It was clear the store would be closing shortly and it was nearly empty. We went upstairs, found the two external hard drives that were on sale and I proceeded to ask the salesguy if the no-name yet cheaper one was decent. He said, “I haven’t received any complaints on any of the hard drives.” Now, I ask you, when was the last time you complained to the store sales guy that your hard drive crashed? But, you know, that was what I wanted to hear so I went with it.

He got another guy to open the case for us and get me the one on sale. Or so we thought. Because they were closing soon, they had closed all the registers except the customer service desk. Which is fabulous because you get to wait on line for one cashier behind all the people with long, drawn-out issues. The woman in front of me won the prize, though, because she went ballistic and insisted she had pulled out her credit card and now it was gone. First she declared that the cashier had lost it. Then she moved on to contend that it had been stolen by some other customer. Because of that, she insisted the cashier let her use the phone to call Amex to cancel it that very second because someone was out using it to buy things RIGHT NOW. Of course, since she didn’t have the card, she didn’t have a number so wanted the cashier to find that for her. Naftali and I spent this time debating whether it was in her pocket or if she had left it at home.

By the time they got to me I was ready to jam the hard drive down someone’s throat. But finally, the cashier rang it up and it came up as double the actual price in the sales flyer. We determined that the guy upstairs had given me the wrong one. Great. So we went back upstairs (of course the security guard, who wanted to close up, tried to stop us) to find the salesguy who when I pointed to the one in the flyer, said, “oh yeah, we don’t have that one.” Naturally.

So why do I keep going back to this store? Because it’s the nearest one to me, at the moment I have a giftcard there, and it’s the cheapest thing in the area. Of course, things are always cheap when they’re not in stock and so you can’t buy them. But I’m counting on them for the new Deftones CD which comes out on Tuesday. I’m sure if I get there within 12 hours of its release they’ll have it. I just hope I don’t have to ask anyone for help.

The Polecats – Make A Circuit With Me


How do you get to Duane Reade? Turn right at the other Duane Reade

Filed under : New York City,Stores
On June 14, 2006
At 12:24 pm
Comments : 18

Here’s a sign that there are too many of a certain store in your area. You can stand at one and see another. I can do this at several Starbucks in New York. But a special category exists for Duane Reade, the unbelievably ubiquitous drugstore in this area. I knew I had to write about this topic when I had the following exchange with a guy at DR.

Me: Didn’t you used to carry Aveda? Where’s the Aveda?
DR Guy: I know we do.
(searches, finds another guy, they both search, nada)
DR Guy: I guess we don’t have it anymore. Try the Duane Reade across the street.

Yes, try the one across the street. That’s when a blog entry formed itself in my mind.

I used to think Duane Reade was a guy. Hey! Duane! But one day I was serving jury duty, wandering around an area far further downtown than I ever go, when I happened upon a Duane Reade at the corner of Duane and Reade streets. Duh.

My friend Becky, who now reads this blog, once told me that she read about the secret to DR’s success. It’s that they will take any space. If you go into CVS or Rite Aid, they’re all nice and organized in tidy rows. If you know where the shampoo is in Peoria, you probably know where it is on 96th Street in Manhattan. DR is not like this. Some stores are L-shaped. Some have two levels. Some look like mazes, complete with arrow signs guiding you to the pharmacy. Once, my nearest Duane Reade moved across the street. I knew I was fucked. I would never be able to find anything again.

I know what you’re thinking (don’t I always?). Surely you exaggerate, Becca. Right. Here’s a picture of the two Duane Reades facing off across the street from each other.

Click to enlarge.

Can’t see the left one? Here’s a close-up.

I know it looks older and dirtier but I like the one on the left because it’s all on one level. Plus I know where the shampoo is. I really have to go back and find the Aveda.

I only shop at DR because it’s everywhere I want to be, as they say. But when I get it together enough to want a lot of pharmaceuticals at the same time, and I don’t want to spend $6.99 on toothpaste, I haul my ass down to K-Mart. There is no Wal-Mart in the city, not that I’d shop there, and Tar-jhay is cautiously circling around the outer boroughs. There is really no reason to tell you this except people seem to like those touristy photos without having to actually come here and pay $300 for a hotel room. So here’s a shot of the nearest landmark to K-Mart. You may recognize it.

Of course, as everyone knows, the Empire State Building changes its colors to salute various causes and holidays. I think the lighting theme here represents “Colors Becca Would Never Wear Day” which is celebrated throughout the world.

I wanted to link to The Rolling Stones’ She’s A Rainbow, but they’d only give me 30 seconds. And thankfully, there are no songs I know of about Duane Reade.

So let’s go with the song I was listening to today on the subway. They’re from New York and this is an awesome song.

The Walkmen – The Rat

Here’s hoping I never have a post that references this subject matter.


We’re s.h.o.p.p.i.n.g., we’re shopping

Filed under : Food,Stores
On May 21, 2006
At 12:34 am
Comments : 8

I have been thinking about stores lately, which is better than spending a lot of money in them, I guess. I have been known to do this too and that can be disastrous in a New York apartment about the size of your average closet. But it began because the other day I passed the scene of the opening of the new Apple store on Fifth Avenue. I am rarely on Fifth and when I’m there it’s usually for a different store, American Girl Place (I have nieces, nieces who have well-marketed hundred dollar dolls). But this time I was there to get a mammogram. Don’t worry, this post will NOT be about my breasts (gentlemen: sorry, this post will not be about my breasts).

So, a block away from there, I pass this huge glass cube with the Apple logo on it. Now, I had read about this but I still couldn’t figure out why it was such a momentous occasion. Yay, there’s an Apple store on Fifth. Tourists can now buy the same iPods they can get at their local Best Buy (or Apple store if they have one). Whatever. But there was a big crowd and lots of press. I know this is a continuing theme with me, but once again, I was caught without my camera. I mean, who would have dreamed there would be anything to take a picture of at a mammogram besides a bunch of women sitting around in hospital gowns? Stupid, stupid me.

Anyway, in that room full of women in hospital gowns, I had a lot of time to think about stores. This is because there were no magazines. None. Come ON. These women had all come prepared with work or a book or a paper but you could tell I was a rookie because I had nothing. I first filled my time by gazing at the inoperative stereo system across the room and trying to guess which knob had which function. OK, the slidey things are the EQ and the big knob is the volume and the buttons go with the CD, blah blah blah. Yeah, you know I was bored.

But then I realized, hey I don’t smell! The reason this was shocking is you’re not allowed to wear deodorant or powder in your pits when you have a mammogram. I have no idea why. Don’t bother to tell me in a comment, I don’t really care. But this was a lunchtime dealie and so I had spent the whole morning in the workplace with, you know, other humans. I did think that through in advance, finally deciding on a giant sweatshirt that I’ve had since about 1989 when giant sweatshirts were in fashion for women. I figured it would absorb my stink in its thick folds. (Before you ask, yes, we have a casual workplace – you couldn’t get more casual unless you came in nude).

As I mentioned, I had more than a few idle moments to think about why I didn’t smell. I came to the conclusion that it was the soap given to me by Kay from a store called Lush. I used to buy stuff at Lush when I visited the UK regularly. Then it seemed novel and fun to buy overpriced soap by the slice from bins under handwritten signs with clever descriptions on them. Once Lush came to the Upper West Side I stopped buying. I seriously have never bought a single thing from Lush in New York despite the fact that I pass it two or three times a week. Of course I do; it’s on a block with several other attractions. Shall I list them? Sure, everyone likes lists.

1. Dale & Thomas Popcorn. Holy crap, that stuff is good. Sweet, salty, fantastic.
2. Zen Palate. So good you forget it’s vegan. And you can get high from the herbal iced teas there, I swear.
3. Beard Papa cream puffs. For the strictly Orthodox, I must warn you, there’s no hechsher but what could they put in there? For anyone else, best.cream.puff.ever. And seriously, all cream puffs are good so you can only imagine.
4. Fairway (OK, it’s a couple of blocks away, but close enough). Best/cheapest grocery store in NY.

So into this mix comes Lush. But all those overpriced cleansy things just don’t have that thrill when you’re not on vacation. Everyone swears by their “bath bombs” but I don’t take baths so I don’t care (and I even have a jacuzzi bath courtesy of the previous owners who thought it’d increase the value of the apartment). And a shower is just a ten minute affair that is over before I can get to the fourth song on Turn On the Bright Lights and I skip the first one because it’s too slow for my chop-chop shower routine. It just slows me down. So, whatever. But Kay got me this nice lavender bath slice which lasted me all day. Excellent stuff. I highly recommend it for when you are going to get felt up by a machine and want to stay shower-fresh.

But this got me thinking. Maybe Steve Jobs figured people on vacation who have just overspent at Prada and FAO Schwarz will be willing to shell out for the same iPod boombox that was too extravagant at home. I, of course, will be gazing at it across Fifth trying to guess which button does what.

Title comes from:

Pet Shop Boys – Shopping

Oh, and I really did want to link to The Smiths’ Handsome Devil. If you know this song, well, you’ll know why. If not, Google the lyrics! Isn’t the chorus perfect, wink wink wink? But alas, I guess licensing their songs to online services was just another issue that Morrissey and Marr could not agree on. Blast those eccentric geniuses.


All lost in the supermarket

Filed under : Food,New York City,Stores
On May 4, 2006
At 10:23 pm
Comments : 20

A friend of mine in another city, a sometime reader of this blog, found it amazing when I told her I had access to butter from four countries. But I was wrong. Actually, as you can see at left, my local shop (it’s not exactly a grocery store; more on this later) has at least 14 kinds of butter from such dairy-rich nations as Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, England, and (let’s just go ahead and give them their own country already) Vermont. You can’t even see it because the Kosher food has its own section, but there’s also Israeli butter. Can I count Land O’Lakes as a land? I guess not. But the selection’s impressive, no?

So let’s have another “you live like this, we live like that” exposition. There are three places to get groceries in New York City. We’ll look at each.

The one you’re no doubt familiar with, as was I when I was growing up in the suburbs, is the supermarket. Right now you’re imagining a vast, clean, wide-aisled fairyland where the latest things that you see advertised on TV are available in every possible permutation. Think again. For starters, ours are much, much smaller, as well as dirtier, and if you can get your basket (don’t bother with a cart) past another person’s ass without knocking over a slew of tuna cans, count yourself lucky. By the way, there will only be two brands and maybe three varieties to knock over. If you see a commercial for something fun like “lemon dill tuna,” don’t bother looking, it won’t be there, and while you’re peering at the shelf someone will knock their basket into your ass.

Here’s an example of a “super” market. Like most supermarkets here, it’s in the base of an apartment building. Like many, it’s on two floors (another reason you can’t use a cart) and there’s an escalator. Some have an elevator. Some are all on a lower floor and you have to take an escalator down just to get to the food. This is a Food Emporium, an “upscale” market. By upscale, they mean overpriced. I wanted to take a picture of a Gristede’s, which is the dominant grocery store around here, but it was out of my way, and like most New Yorkers, I won’t walk more than four blocks for a grocery store (there are bags to carry home, you know).

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the bodega (bo-day-gah).

Bodegas are kind of like 7-Eleven or Wawa except instead of a fruity slushy drink, there are vitality-supplements from Asia. And, as you can see, flowers. Here, your need for milk and Sun Chips without walking more than 30 yards from your apartment or subway is met by the entrepreneurial-minded immigrant who has a mark-up that Apu at the Quick-E-Mart can only dream about. You can see the name of the bodega on the awning, “K&S Market,” but I would bet you no one who has ever shopped there knows that. I certainly didn’t. I, like everyone else, call it by some variation of “the bodega on the corner near the pizza place.”

In between these two extremes are various specialty and independent grocery stores. Some are just mini-supermarkets, some skew to the health conscious, and some, like the one where I got the butter, cater to a more gourmet clientele. Here it is below:

Yes, it’s called Barzini’s. Please insert your own Godfather/Five Families joke. Here’s mine: “I thought that place with 14 kinds of European butter was a dream, but I didn’t know until this day that it was Barzini’s all along.” Yes, OK, I’ll keep working on that.

Anyway, I know you’re wondering so I’ll tell you. I bought the Breakstone’s.

Title comes from…

The Clash-Lost In The Supermarket