Indian Grocery Stores
My wife and I were on our weekly Indian grocery shopping trip at Namaste Plaza in Sunnyvale today and a short conversation my wife had with an employee once again highlighted how different our Indian grocery stores are from the other stores.
My wife, who was completely dissatisfied with the quality of the vegetables, mentioned the same to the employee, who happened to be in the same area, slapping price labels on some items(his dress indicated his was higher up in the chain than delivery boy or stocker). His response to her was "Its OK ma'am. Our business is as good as it has always been and we are even opening new stores". Implicit in his response was his lack of concern at my wife not coming back to the store. Our $30 weekly bill is not going to make or break the store but has this man heard of the phrase "customer service"?
Though they are essentially grocery stores like Safeway, Albertsons, etc., Indian grocery stores seem to exist in a world all their own. The phrase "When in Rome, do as Romans do" does not seem to apply to them at all.
An Indian store can usually be spotted by its exterior appearance. There are boxes of vegetables and fruits out in the open with hand-written signs advertising their low prices. The setting does not improve when we go in. There is hardly any wall-space available with all the advertisements for upcoming music shows, sales, classes targetting Indians, etc. (ofcourse the quality of the wall in the places without such flyers tempts us to put one up just so that the space is not visible any more!). Crates and boxes are haphazardly spread around with no concern for customer safety and (I'm guessing) safety rules.
Items are misplaced in all the aisles and the floors are littered with rice and various podis (its really amazing that the same desis who are so conscious of littering in an American store don't think twice about doing the same here). The situation gets worse if the store sells eatables like samosas, puffs, etc. Several packages have been opened in the aisles and crushed packets are a common sight. Customer service is almost non-existent with queries regarding the location of an item getting either an "I don't know" or "there", with a finger vaguely pointed at the aisles to the right or the left of the answerer. And there's always the fear of seeing the smiling, over-friendly desi who is either an Amway representative or the owner of a fledgeling startup who wants us to "spend a few minutes next weekend to listen to what he is doing".
But until the day Safeway starts stocking murungakkai and vazhakkai and chilli powder and puli and all those other uniquely Indian vegetables and spices our tongues have become addicted to, Indian grocery stores are going to be an inescapable part of life in the US. Being in the Bay area, Indian stores are a dime a dozen. Over the years we've jumped from one store to the other for one reason or the other. We've gone from Bharath Bazaar(too dirty) to India Cash & Carry(not much variety in vegetables) to Coconut Hill(too far) to New India Bazaar(too crowded and hence, slow) to Spiceland(poor quality of vegetables) to Namaste Plaza. We've been going to the last mentioned for a while now since it was convenient, cheap and had lots of vegetables (ofcourse, the free DVD rentals for groceries helped too).
But after today, we're not sure if we're gonna be going there again. So the search for a good Indian grocery store continues...