23 October 2017

Bi-Lo vs. Publix

If you live on the Beaufort County island chain, your two grocery store choices are Bi-Lo or Publix. (You also have Food Lion and Piggly-Wiggly, but I don't shop at either of them. The Food Lion near us reminds me too much of the Family Dollar stores and that depresses me. And I've never gone to Piggly-Wiggly, because who wants to shop at a place called "Piggly-Wiggly"?)

Both stores attract two vastly different sets of clientele. Publix decidedly favors the genteel, affluent lovers of the finer things in life -- the "just spent all day on the golf course, now picking up the steaks for my HOA block party" types. Bi-Lo is for the unpretentious, humbler crowd that lives on Oscar Meyer ham sandwiches and grabs up discounted produce. Bi-Lo is for people who need to, well, buy low. (I bet you can't guess which one I end up at most of the time!)

But shopping at Bi-Lo is, at least, a laid-back experience. Bi-Lo regulars are easygoing. They don't get impatient in line. If they're standing in front of something you need in an aisle, they'll gladly move aside and give you space. Most of them seem to have nothing to do and all day to do it, so they're taking their time and they're happy to let you take your time as well.

At Publix, he who hesitates is lost. Publix customers shop like they're on their way to a fire. There needs to be a Publix police force that patrols the store writing tickets to crazy cart drivers. I came up with this idea the other day when I became acutely aware that the person behind me was pushing their cart roughly two inches from my backside (give or take a millimeter) while matching my speed exactly. If I stopped to pick up something -- well, let's just say it would give a whole new meaning to getting rear ended. Help, my cart needs brake lights! What does one do in this situation? Should I make the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hand signals for "left", "right", "stop"? I ended up veering off down a random aisle and letting Mr. Hurry pass me. (Maybe that's an idea -- supermarket passing lanes.)

In terms of product quality and availability, Publix wins by a landslide. They're never mysteriously out of stock of staples like bread or milk or lettuce, and their stuff is fresher. Their produce never looks like it belongs in -- or came from -- a petri dish, which is a pretty big point in their favor if you ask me. At Publix, you have a better chance of getting your hands on "ethnic" options, from oxtails to carambola to Marmite. But you can forget about doing so at Bi-Lo, where the "exotic foods" are soy sauce and salsa. I can go to Publix and get everything on my shopping list in one visit. That's never once happened to me at Bi-Lo, and I've been shopping there for over two years.

But Bi-Lo has better sales (on the stuff that they do have). Bi-Lo has something you don't see much of in other parts of the country these days: honest-to-goodness BOGO Sales. Publix has them too, but they tend to have more of the "Buy One Get One 50% Off" variety or "Buy Two Get One Free." The problem is, you don't necessarily need three of whatever is on the Buy Two Get One deal. It takes most people awhile to go through three tubs of shortening or three king-size bags of Fair Trade gummy bears, for instance.

Bi-Lo has a loyalty card that you can earn gas points with. On my first trip to Publix, I made the grave error of inquiring whether they had a similar program. You would have thought I'd asked for cockroach droppings. "Good gracious, no," the nice lady said. "Loyalty cards are for plebes and heaven knows we don't want them here." Well, okay, she didn't say that part. She didn't need to. Her eyebrows did all the talking. (Publix is infamous for their high prices -- clearly, an aspect of their reputation they're not eager to part with.)

Last but not least, the shopping carts. Publix's shopping carts separate easily and they ride smoothly and noiselessly, like a brand new Lexus. Bi-Lo's shopping carts have to be wrestled apart. It's almost a two-person job. And then the racket they make while you push them around the store announces your approach from a long way off. Kind of like Wesley's old 1994 Honda, but without the muffler.

Bi-Lo, however, has parking lot cart returns for their cacophonous conveyances. Publix doesn't, so you're left with the choice of hefting your cart up on the sidewalk that separates the parking aisles, or being a jerk and leaving it in a parking space. I've done both, depending on how much of a hurry I'm in, and how much I feel up to lifting a heavy shopping cart.

So which one do I prefer? Well, neither, actually. I'm more partial to ethnic markets myself. I got used to them while living in California, and now I just don't like shopping anywhere else. I mean, if I can't find

sea snails

and octopus tentacles

and "instant jellyfish"

and gallon jars of kimchi

and piles of coconuts

and mushroom-shaped cookies

and oranges so fresh they still have leaves attached

and signs in Chinese telling me to interact with live merchandise at my own risk

... I'm just not that interested, you know?

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