Veni, vidi, freshgrocer conquered me

I confess that I fell in love with the displays of yellow and red tomatoes, the strawberries and melons, the bats of sugar cane and giant cactus leaves.

The bins of olives, the fennel, the red bananas.

The initial word on the street and my neighborhood listserv about freshgrocer, the new supermarket at 40th and Walnut streets, open 24 hours a day, was even better than the official hype.

“One of the best new additions to campus, which happened just recently, is the freshgrocer,” said Michael Portnoy (C/EAS’02), offered in an interview on how the Agenda for Excellence has changed life at Penn.

A friend had told me freshgrocer was like a Paris épicerie, with its angular shelves and gorgeous fresh food displays.

So, after I parked my car in the garage above — no charge for up to two hours with a purchase at freshgrocer of $10 or more — I bumped into my next-door neighbor, Olivia Hunter, 8, exiting freshgrocer with her father and their purchases. “What do you think of the new supermarket?” I asked. “Much better than Pathmark,” she said. She seemed sincere.

Then a nice store employee helped me find the front door. Inside, an array of freshly prepared foods — sandwiches, salad bar (more great veggie displays), pizza, ribs, crab cakes — distracted me from the left turn for the coffee bar and the two seating areas, one outdoors and one up a flight (elevator or stairs) with a great view of the corner. The prepared foods buffets close for the night at 11:30 p.m.

Past the buffets, I was glad to find Cheerios and Kraft macaroni and cheese as well as soynuts and cannolis — and some prepared foods prepackaged.

The prices beat Fresh Fields, but I knew I wasn’t in ShopRite when, at the checkout line, I saw the Odwalla nutrition bars stacked high.

The cashier stamped my parking ticket. A packer loaded my bundles into plastic bins and put them onto a conveyor belt. So I got my stamped parking ticket validated in one of the kiosks in the lobby. I drove my car to the exit on level two, put my parking ticket in the machine, crossed the barrier, gave a young man the chits for my groceries and he loaded them in my car.

I’ve heard the official puffery. I’ve heard the word on the street. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Freshgrocer has opened at long last, and it is good.


Originally published on May 3, 2001