Let me first say, I have only ever been to one other Meijer store. I visited the store on North Avenue once last year. It felt a little “warehousy” and I didn’t go back. There was nothing extraordinary to entice me back and it’s out of the way so I just didn’t.

I should confess up front I do most of my shopping at ALDI or Caputos. Sometimes Costco (though we let our membership lapse because it just felt like too much food any time I went). I generally avoid Jewel. I may have ever visited the Dominic’s – either River Forest or Oak Park once or twice in my LIFETIME.

I have a Big Box background and I kind of like to check out new places. The Meijer in Berwyn isn’t that new, but it’s just a slight bit out of my normal way for groceries – so I haven’t been yet. Honestly, I had nearly forgotten they were there at all. But I got a coupon in the mail.

I’m sure the opening of the new Costco a hop skip and a jump across the street has management and corporate worried. The coupon was a good idea. I don’t know if I received one when they first opened- but I’ll take it now.

I didn’t need much on Wednesday morning. Really. I needed to go to a more traditional grocery store because I needed plain old gelatin to make homemade marshmallows. I forgot my coupon incidentally.

When I visit new spots, I start evaluating as soon as I hit the parking lot. I don’t know why there were so many cars absent from the Meijer spaces? Where were all of the shoppers? Is Costco open already?

I also have a list in my head of things that I tick off as I walk into a restaurant, store, or boutique. It always starts with, ” Is this place clean?” Meijer was SUPER clean. I saw people cleaning shelves as I walked in. There was a man in produce restocking – it looked extremely full. That’s great.

I walked past the seafood and someone asked me if I needed help looking for anything. (I needed help finding everything, but that’s my problem mostly) Someone else asked me while I was walking past health and beauty supplies.

Once you get past clean and friendly in a big box, there really isn’t that much more to evaluate. Clean and friendly is actually a really hard thing to achieve. I do count organization in with clean – so that can be rough.

Overall atmosphere isn’t about the local shop or local training or lack thereof. I don’t know why I expected a different “feel” than the one on North Ave. After my second visit, I would venture to say that all Meijer’s have a warehouse kind of sense about them. This Berwyn location doesn’t have a big softlines or clothing offering – some do – I guess, or I didn’t see any.

But up to the check out, I felt OK about my experience.

With my 20 or so items in my cart I proceeded to the check out, which was backed up with 3 people in line. At a big box store, that’s my limit. If you have 2 or 3 people in line I begin to wonder where the supervisor is to help move the line along quicker. No one was doing that. I like to know that a store is training the employees to think fast, move fast and react to a customer in 15 seconds or less. THAT is not an unrealistic expectation.

The DIY checkout was available with a cashier “guard” standing in the center of four registers. He was, mostly, non communicative. I had to make sure I could check myself out with more than 12 items – so I asked and he responded with a slight uh huh. But that was it.

From that young man standing in the middle, I got no, “Thank you.” He uttered no, “Have a nice day.”

After having an alright shopping experience, Meijer missed it in the last 30 seconds I was in the store. There was no friendliness at the checkout.

I am well aware that big box stores survive in an efficient mode of anonymity. Honestly, those cashiers at Target, Kmart, Walmart – they don’t have time to get to know you. Their job is to make sure you found your way, have your merchandise and that they follow certain standard pleasantries on your way out the door, “Thanks so much, have a great day, see you next time.” One of those three phrases need to be uttered at ANY retail shop.

I expect a little more personality from a full scale grocery store.

For sure, I have low expectations for ALDI’s atmosphere obviously, but the cashiers impress me every time I shop there. One of the cashiers at the spot on Harlem remembered me from when she used to watch the kids at the Y, she remembered my sons name even. Other cashiers at other Aldi interact with me, “You should try this next time – it’s really good.” And I always get a, “Have a great day.” or “see you next time” when I leave.

It’s too bad that my last interaction at Meijer was lackluster. It meant that my whole experience just wasn’t that great.  It wasn’t awful – it just wasn’t GREAT. Frankly, with the choices we have, we need great.

I’ll use the coupon that I forgot in the next couple of weeks. Because above all else, I like a bargain. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be retracting my lack lustered opinion. But I’m doubtful.

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Sarah Corbin

Sarah, a life long Oak Parker, enjoys supporting local small business as much as possible.  With over 20 years in big box and little box retail, she brings a unique perspective to our local business community. ...