From book stores to grocery stores in the new millennium

From book stores to grocery stores in the new millennium

By Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

I love food. I think about food all the time, mainly because I am constantly trying to figure out how to lose weight and still enjoy a good meal. It’s a constant, never ending, ugly battle.

But the next best thing to actually eating good food is browsing good food.

Over the past few years, some genius finally figured that out. Imagine. It only took a half-century for someone to figure that people like to hang around in grocery stores and browse good food, much the way we used to browse books.

In fact, the demise of the book store – another place I used to really love to hang around – pretty much put a dent in my social life. Until the change.

Today, the grocery store is more than just a get-the-food experience. It’s our changing lifestyle.

Recently, we’ve seen the new millennium super stores open like Pete’s Fresh Market and Mariano’s. They offer more than the dizzying aisles of food products monotonously stacked on shelves that symbolized the past experience.

Mariano's store in Orland Park

Mariano’s store in Orland Park

After World War II, grocery shopping came of age. My mom loved to shop, but you’d rarely find the husbands or men wandering around the grocery store, the way men wander around hardware stores and still do. A&P was the big name in the 1950s and 1960s.

If the meat was fresh, the bread was neatly wrapped, and the vegetables looked crisp, mom was happy.

In the 1970s, Jewel became the leader. I worked as a bag-boy for Jewel from 1967 through 1973 when I entered the military and discovered the Commissary, the first place to take shoppers – military personnel in uniform with their wives – on a true family experience. At Jewel at 87th and Stony Island, I carried grocery bags for Cassius Clay, who later became boxing champ Mohammed Ali.

Homebuyers who moved into the suburbs not only evaluated local schools but also looked for the presence of a Jewel.

Mariano's deli and salad bar section in Orland Park

Mariano’s deli and salad bar section in Orland Park

Jewel put a lot into presentation and marketing messages. They didn’t just sell food. They sold a lifestyle. Jewel was a trendsetter in many ways and helped men shatter the glass ceiling that kept them grocery shopping comfort.

Single men in the 1980s and 1990s realized they had two places to meet women. One was at the “disco” or the bar. The other was the social environment of the new grocery store.

Pete’s Fresh Market and Mariano’s have taken the grocery shopping experience into the 21st Century.

The meat sections are diversified. The vegetables sections are architecturally designed to enhance the experience. They’ve added “fun sections,” like the Oyster bar, the pizza bar, the freshly cooked meat bar, and they even offer sushi. But best of all, they’ve taken the old Jewel concept of the deli section and blown it wide open.

They have trendy café sections and even inside patios where you can enjoy the fresh “ready-to-eat” foods.

Mariano’s just opened a new store in Orland Park that was much like the premiere of a new Star Wars movie. And Pete’s Fresh Market launched a stunning store at 103rd and Harlem.

The salad bars are the lures. I love the hummus, the tabouli salads and the Middle Eastern dishes. Those are just a small part of the vast ethnic variety offered. Pete’s made a major mistake by not opening in Orland Park, which is the retail economic engine of the Southwest suburbs.

If you ever want to give me “what for” over my columns, just make your way to Pete’s Fresh Market or Mariano’s. You will usually find me near the Mediterranean salads, stuffed grape leaves or browsing the ready-to-serve counters.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at

Categories: Baby Boomers

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