There are fewer and fewer pockets of regional culture these days, as national restaurants plant outposts across the country and streaming music services replace local radio stations. Maybe that’s why Americans hold so fast to their grocery store allegiances: Those regional chains still mark where we’re from. Quirks in house brands and store amenities might be minor details in the grand scheme of things, but don’t you dare try to tell a Floridian that there’s life without Publix.
We’ll share our hometown favorites, and look forward to hearing your ardent appreciation of Meijer, Wegmans, Fareway, Giant Eagle, etc.
I no longer reside in Wegmans’ dominion, but I wish I did. When the Wegmans opened in Woodbridge, New Jersey, it was a revelation to my friends and I. We were bored, suburban, and college-aged—too old for the mall, too young for bars—and the Wegmans was our playground. We couldn’t afford the swordfish steaks or pounds of starfruit, but we loved to window shop at the olive bar or the imported cheese section. Wegmans was truly aspirational to me; I took note of produce I hadn’t heard of or cuts of steak I didn’t know, then went home and looked up how to prepare them. It felt like being a kid in FAO Schwarz. —Kate Bernot
My philosophy of grocery stores comes from cheesy ’70s soft rock: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, doo doo doo doo doo. I could pine for Publix, which, in its various forms, embodied everything I loved about living in South Florida (the grungy drug dealer Publix, the valet-parking old people Publix, the big-box deep suburban Publix, the shiny waterfront has-everything Publix—all of them in strip malls). I sometimes miss Schnucks in St. Louis because the name is fun to say. But now I have Morse Market, the small neighborhood grocery a block and a half from my apartment where Ted the manager, a cheerful Bulgarian man with a walrus-like mustache, stands in the produce section and welcomes everyone. Morse Market is like the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts: If I need something, it’s probably there. Even if I don’t need something, I will sometimes buy it, just because it captures my imagination, like a quince or einkorn flour. And once, a Buddha’s hand, a yellow citrus fruit with long fingers and the sweetest smell. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I kept it on my counter for a week. Every time I passed by, I would pick it up and sniff it and think happy thoughts about serendipity. —Aimee Levitt
I’ve lived my adult life as something of a grocery store vagabond. After growing up solely with suburban Chicago’s Dominick’s, which went fully extinct in 2013, I’ve wandered restlessly between the Mariano’s that replaced them, the Hy-Vee of my college town, Lidl when I studied abroad in France, the Whole Foods near my apartment—all of them failing to spark joy. Northgate Market, meanwhile, is a delight and a wonder. I lived only 18 months in Los Angeles, but this regional California grocery store with its vast produce section brimming with perfect tomatillos, its housemade tortillas clouding the bag with steam, its neverending supply of Topo Chico, and its unrivaled guacamole was one of the highlights of my stay. It has the stock of a big box store but the unintimidating appeal of an Aldi, with cashiers so friendly and accommodating that Trader Joe’s HQ must be looking upon them with jealousy. It’s the only store I’ve ever engineered excuses to wander around in on a weekend, and the only place I’ve bought a bag of tortilla chips the size of my torso. Anyone who puts up with LA traffic deserves that kind of excitement once they put the car in park. —Marnie Shure
Here are five reasons I love Harris Teeter:
1: The aisles are wide enough that two shoppers going in opposite directions can actually pass each other. When there’s inventory lying about for restocking, there’s plenty of room to navigate your cart around it without accidentally clipping a box, causing a whole stack of them to topple over while you duck and cover to protect yourself from falling cans of beans. This may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but I grew up in New York City and didn’t get to fully experience the magic of wide aisles and a life absent of bean welts until well into my 30s. These are a blessing.
2. The lighting is bright but not harsh, unlike the faintly menacing yellowish lighting of the Shoppers down the street. Harris Teeter also has clean bathrooms, which is always a good sign.
3. Every Thursday is Prime Rib Night, where you can get a fat hunk of well-seasoned prime rib with two sides for $9.99 Unlike at a legitimate steakhouse, you can eat this prime rib in your car while wearing sweatpants and flip flops.
4. If you go shopping on a Friday or Saturday night it’s completely empty, and the employees won’t yell at you for running down the aisles with a shopping cart before jumping on and screaming “Whee!” That kind of behavior might result in permanent expulsion from other stores, but not at the Teets. At the Teets, you can soar like an eagle.
5. Harris Teeter runs tons of “buy 2, get 3" sales on products that are actually good, including bags frozen shrimp. Sixty bucks for ten whole pounds of shrimp! If you buy the precooked bags on Prime Rib Night, you can have surf and turf in your car. —Allison Robicelli