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“I’d like to think that the last thing that went through his head, other than that bullet, was to wonder how the hell Andy Dufresne ever got the best of him.” – Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, “The Shawshank Redemption”
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For some reason, the demise of Dominick’s put me in mind of this quote from one of my favorite films. One day before this once-grand Chicago-area supermarket chain closes forever, are the executives at Safeway corporate in California wondering, “What the hell went wrong?”
I was once a faithful Dominick’s shopper – that is, up until my neighborhood Dominick’s closed after three decades in my town. Then I became a faithful shopper of Mariano’s Fresh Market, the banner that took over for Dominick’s at this site that’s all the rage now in Chicago grocery. The transition was astounding – in a few short months, grocery shopping went from chore to adventure in the same footprint. The new tenant made it more clear than ever that Dominick's had lost its way some time ago.
As a result, I hadn’t visited a Dominick’s since then, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t eager to attend its wake in the weeks since Safeway announced its withdrawal from Chicago, as the clearance sales began and madness ensued among shoppers looking to snatch up whatever was left on the shelves at pennies on the dollar.
But eventually, my morbid curiosity got the better of me, and today, one day before zero hour, I drove over to the Dominick’s at Schaumburg Town Square, here in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. The supermarket was once the anchor of a vibrant nexus of retail and dining that also includes the area’s main library, and is ringed by a residential area that includes high-end condos.
I’m pretty sure the only cars in the lot belonged to the dozen or so employees charged with cleaning and dismantling the store. The produce department, once green and fragrant, was now barren, cold and sterile. Same for the deli, bakery and meat counters. Ditto for center store, cordoned off with plastic shelving and yellow caution tape.
The morning paper included a Dominick’s ad for a wine-and-spirits clearance, but this store was truly poor in spirits, literally and figuratively. The remaining clearance merchandise, at 75 percent off, was consigned to a small area astride the former pharmacy. Ironically, in the afterglow of the holidays, the item in most abundance was pumpkin pie filling.
Employees not busying themselves with removing signage, disassembling displays and sweeping up gathered in a circle near the silent checklanes, contemplating their futures.
“What are you going to do?” one wondered.
“I dunno,” another replied.
Perhaps apply at Mariano’s? The Town Square store isn’t on the list of acquired locations, so after tomorrow, it presumably will go dark for good.
New luxury condos are under construction, just across the main drag from Town Square. Where will its residents buy their groceries? Town Square sits roughly halfway between a Jewel-Osco to the south and a popular local ethnic indie to the north, with another Jewel a couple miles west.
So, just what is going through the heads of the folks at Safeway, after a 15-year slide that saw Dominick’s store numbers shrink and market position drop from second to third as Walmart, Target and Aldi came on strong?
Perhaps they’re wondering how they misread the market. Perhaps they’re regretting not listening more closely to local shoppers who grew disenchanted with changes made under the new corporate regime. Perhaps they’re thinking about ways they can keep this from happening again elsewhere within its network of stores.