Which is a supermarket.
Connecticut’s an exciting place, I assure you. Honestly.
According to the unofficial state anthem (very much NSFW), Connecticut is “The Dullest State”, and to be honest, of late it’s been living up to its reputation. Thankfully work is so packed that I’m spending weekends in the office, and when I’m not there I’m playing rugby, in the gym, or sleeping. And then there’s always New York City down the road, which I will get to visit on Friday for the first time in 15 years.
All of this is a roundabout way to say that it’s a short entry this week, inspired by a somewhat wild goose chase looking for a nonexistent Pepperidge Farm factory outlet so that I could buy cheap cookies. After a fruitless search of the strip malls that line the road between Westport and Norwalk, I stumbled upon a vastly crowded supermarket called Stew Leonard’s. The otherwise nondescript concrete building proudly advertised that it was the “World’s Largest Dairy Store”, and “Featured on Ripley’s Believe it or Not”. As I had nothing better to do I thought I would check it out.
Imagine the unholy chimera of an Aldi, an IKEA, and a Chuck E. Cheese, and you get a pretty good picture of Stew Leonard’s. It’s unlike any supermarket I’ve ever visited, more 20th century theme park than grocer. Stopping at the café at the front to try the espresso (fresh roasted in front of the audience/buyers in an ongoing spectacle), I watched children running around the place with glee, defying death by darting between shopping trolleys as they pointed out the various stuffed toys hanging from the ceiling.
Like an Aldi, there is limited shelving; cartons of food are stacked up against the walls, rather than placed in aisles and racks. A great proportion of the stock is also private label.
Like an IKEA, there is only one path through Stew Leonard’s, taking you on a food journey past automated rice cake makers and milk-carton-filling conveyor belts. The only escape is to keep going and hope.
And then, like a Chuck E. Cheese, there are the animatronics. I kid you not. Here’s the animatronic disembodied cow’s head.
That’s all it says.
For all eternity.
Then there’s the animatronic accordion player that sits on top of the deli case, ever singing of the sublime ambrosian joys of cold cuts. And the bluegrass duo that exhorts children to eat their vegetables in a choreography of nightmare-inducing jerky movements and uncanny valley lip-sync.
Maybe I’m being harsh. Most of the kids seemed to be loving it (except maybe for the one or two that cried that piercing wail consistent with the onset of permanent psychological scarring). But it was a crazy throwback to 1980’s era commercialist entertainment. An anachronism in our modern era of carefully curated marketing messages and cookie cutter A/B tested store layouts.
And there was an ice-cream stand at the end after the checkouts. Right next to the horribly oversized fiberglass ear of corn.
Oh, and when you’re done with that, on the way back to the parking lot, you can visit a miniature farm. With a goat. Because why not. They’ve gone this far they may as well go the whole hog.
Or goat. Whatever.
It was a strange adventure. And I never did find the Pepperidge Farm cookies. Not even at Stew Leonard’s.