In the August 12, 2007 Times, John Kifner wrote a piece for the real estate section, "My Neighborhood: Life With Zabar's at the Epicenter," in which he referred to the fabled West Side supermarket Fairway as "the home of combat shopping." Boy, was he right! The sage bit of advice to pick one's battles certainly applies to buying groceries here. Kifner's phrase springs to mind every time I enter the place. You really have to gird your loins to shop at Fairway. Little old ladies who have chips on their shoulders and mothers with twin-size baby strollers seem to be the worst offenders. I never try to use a shopping cart. I buy only what will fit into a handbasket (the phrase about going to hell in one certainly applies here). When I see a blocked aisle, I nimbly sprint to what I hope is a less crowded passageway, if such exists. This is not even to mention the hapless shelf stockers, shouting at one another—usually in Spanish, who have to do their jobs, after all. The checkout system is surprisingly speedy, given the crowds.
The advantages of Fairway are well known. Prices are surprisingly moderate, the selection of cheeses and fresh produce is top-notch, and the variety is enormous. I once read that the owner has never remodeled to give his store the glossy look of the typical American supermarket because he can keep his prices lower that way. A quaint touch is the spreading of—wait for it—sawdust on the floor on rainy, snowy, or icy days. No, there's no pickle barrel. However, you do have to be prepared for a fight every time you enter. Some days I just give up after looking in, and return to my East Side neighborhood, where I have a D'Agostino's, a Food Emporium, and an Associated close at hand, not to mention numerous specialty grocers. But it's just not the same.
Fairway happens to be on the ground floor of the building that houses the ballet studio where I take class several time a week; thus, its proximity is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Buying all that lovely food may undo some of the good done by a sweaty ballet class. And I do have to schlep my purchases across town afterwards. Nevertheless, when one's favorite jam is more than a dollar less per jar, e.g., the temptation to patronize "the home of combat shopping" is great indeed.
P.S.: The New York Times's Metropolitan Diary (of which I am an alumna; see very first blog entry, January 31, 2008) confirmed the above observations in its column of March 17, 2008. The last item in the column tells the tale: