One of my friends tweeted me and said she was guessing that I was one of Wegmans’ biggest fans. I responded with the truth – not really, I’m just into supermarket grand openings. I wasn’t really there to shop. I was just there to be there. To say – “Yep, I was at the grand opening of the Wegmans. I came. I saw. I was there.“
See, on a summer morning 14 years ago, I was on the other side of a similar set of doors looking out at a similar line snaking around a brand-spanking new supermarket. It wasn’t a Wegmans. Nope, my supermarket was Genuardi’s. If you’re from the Philadelphia suburbs, you’ve heard of Genuardi’s. Maybe you even shopped at one. Customer service and quality goods were hallmarks of the Genuardi’s chain and for a long time they set the gold standard for grocery stores in Southeastern Pennsylvania – kinda like the Disneyland of supermarkets (ahem).On July 2, 1998, as the Genuardi family opened the doors to Roslyn Store #35 – after the family priest blessed the produce – I was at Register 3, at the ready to scan with gusto, punch in produce look-ups with abandon (4011, 4080,…), and ask the imperative question – “Paper or plastic?”
It wasn’t my first job but it was the first job that pushed me out into the world. The seeds of the person I am today were planted and nurtured at Genuardi’s…probably in the floral department where I spent many summer days watering and deadheading flowers. We were a tight-knit staff – high school and college kids and actual grown-ups – who had fun while we were cashiering, baking, deli slicing, pizza tossing, meat grinding, and melon handling! There were Halloween parties, Genuardi brothers sightings, picnics, Midnight Madness sales, and, once, we even had the Mummers strut their stuff in the center of our produce department! For a girl who commuted to college, it was the closest thing I came to a collegiate experience. And our school colors were black (pants), white (shirt), and green (apron).While I didn’t receive a degree from Genuardi’s, I did receive a much-needed education. I learned that when people hear the word “snow” in the forecast, they will suddenly need more milk, bread, and toilet paper than they know what to do with; I learned how to use a helium tank (and you better believe that comes in handy!); I learned the difference between a geranium and a hydrangea; I learned the joys of the life known as “third shift;” I learned that for every nasty person in the world, there are ten more who are kind and generous; I learned that a manager who believes in you has the potential to change your life. And I learned that all good things come to an end eventually.
A couple years into my employment, the Genuardi family sold their stores to a larger grocery chain. That was the beginning of the end – or “21st Century and decline” as it is referenced in the Genuardi’s Wikipedia article. Eventually work wasn’t fun anymore. Work became work. And that's never a good thing. Genuardi’s was never the same after that sale, even though it stayed on the supermarket scene. But late last year, that grocery chain decided to close or sell off the Genuardi’s stores. By the end of this summer, Genuardi’s will “cease to exist,” leaving behind a legacy of customer service, quality products, and, I imagine, quite a few aprons, and name tags.I thought about Genuardi’s a lot while I waited in line for the Wegmans grand opening. I thought about how lucky I was to experience a grand opening on the other side of the doors. To be able to say that I had been there. When they finally take the Genuardi’s sign down at Roslyn Store #35, I hope to be there so I can say “I came. I saw. I’m so glad that I worked there.”