The "Old" Safeway

I’m not the kind of person that does major grocery shopping all in one big go. I prefer to just pop into the local store often and just pick up what I need for the day: bottles of lemonade, cheez-its, box of cat food, a presto log, whatever grabs me. Living in downtown Coeur d’Alene, the closet local supermarket is the old Safeway on 4th street. I’m not sure when the building was put up, but I honestly can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there, sitting next to its twin sister Joann (which for many years held a wonderful store called Pay-n-Save). The parking lot is ill-planned and often chaotic, its diagonal spots not really meant for the modern era. The store itself is a relic, the ugly elder stepchild of the cool, trendy newer Safeway uptown on Government way. Although it is nice to venture into the big Safeway now and then, I still prefer the simplicity of my neighborhood store.

I do worry a bit about the place. I read recently that the Safeway on West 3rd in Spokane, which was my neighborhood store when I lived over there, was gone – closed due to being “un-upgradable.” The old Safeway on Broadway in Seattle, a place where I once ran into a mumbling Courtney Love in the wine aisle, met the same fate a few years earlier. I can’t imagine that the Safeway Corporation would consider our little store worth pouring remodeling dollars into. We can only hope that the place is still taking in enough money to justify its existence for a few more years.

I’m probably not the only one who considers that store to be another part of my home. I often pull in with full-on bedhead and wearing sweats and slippers. I’ve never worn my robe, but I have seen others do it. Us regulars know exactly where to find anything, and if something is moved or missing, we panic. I know how to get in and get out in under 5 minutes if I need to, no matter how long my shopping list is. The selection is nowhere as dazzling as that of it’s big sis uptown, but it has what I need. I really would love it if they would put in a Chinese food deli, but for now chicken strips and corndogs will do just fine. The San Pellegrino sits warm on the shelf instead of cold and crisp in the cooler, but my fridge and a little patience takes care of that.

I see the staff at the old Safeway almost more than I do my own family. There’s frail Hart with her dazed expression and mothering demeanor. There’s Bob, the silver fox with the semi-mullet and the dry humor. Silly Sally, whose horoscopes I knocked all over the floor and when I tried to reorganize them said “No, it’ll give me something to do when I’m bored.” There’s the meat department guy who always talks really loud, his voice booming through the whole store; the haughty pharmacy girls, who seem cliquey and stuck in their own universe in that little room; the orange-vested senior baggers who always seem pleasantly mentally ill. There’s even some feasible sexual tension going on between the smiley dark-haired manager guy and the young lass who works the photo counter. Some have been around since longer than I can remember and some come and go in a few months. I always see how long it takes before the new ones don’t have to look at my name on the receipt before announcing it as they always do. A few years back, there was a girl whose line I went through so many times she had my club card number memorized.

There’s something comforting about the old Safeway – it’s one of the last of its kind and in a town that is changing and growing up and out so rapidly, its one place you can count on to stay the same. I recently went there with my father, who used to shop there all the time years ago, but he now lives in Hayden. He was actually surprised to learn it still even existed. He hadn’t been into that store in probably 15 years, but he said it was exactly the same and he still knew by instinct where to look for the English muffins, sweet pickles, and light bulbs. They were still in the same place. I guess when they finally close up and turn the place into a Value Village (hey, that’s actually not a bad idea) I’ll have to downgrade to crusty old IGA, or deal with the maddening crowds of Albertsons. I do dread the day…


Great post. Despite the (half)joking titles "ghetto Safeway" and "un-Safeway" there really is a qualitative difference between the shop and Sherman IGA on one hand, and anything newer, bigger, less personal on the other.

I agree that when I walk in I feel like the characters are a part of my life's sit com... or rather that I'm a character in theirs. Although I have philisophical questions about supporting the chain and mixed emotions about the "Organics" marketing, I love the store because... I can walk there and lug 80lbs of groceries home if need be... or just a quick daily stop for necessities (read - beer).

It's sad that as meaningful as such a community space is to us (even more so to the employees), the life of the shop has little to do with our feelings - it's a numbers game being played in some corporate office.

Thanks for telling the story.
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