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Sunday, November 9, 2003

Swearing off Safeway

Among the corporate supermarket powerhouses here in Portland are the California-based Safeway stores. Over the years, I've had a few different Safeways in my household shopping rotation, but after several really lousy experiences of late, I'm swearing them all off. I don't care if they're giving stuff away; I intend to eliminate completely my appearances within their walls.

My discontent with this chain has been growing as I have watched the fairly rapid deterioration of the store on Northeast Broadway near Lloyd Center. Substantially renovated within the last deacde, this was until recently a clean and decent, though somewhat cramped, place to shop.

But something's happened. The shopping carts are all disgustingly filthy, and most of them are broken. Here in Oregon, there's a nickel deposit on carbonated beverage containers; well, at this store the bottle return machines are in the scary basement garage. It is an absolute den of contagion, and often the machines are out of order. One night I was told by a teenage clerk that they simply would not accept bottles that night, because all the machines were on the blink. When I complained to the manager on duty, I got a blank stare. This seems to be standard Safeway policy: Make the bottle deposit operation (which is required by Oregon law) uniformly as awful for the customer as possible. They don't hassle you when they charge you the deposit, but they sure are a**holes when it's time to pay you back.

The shelf-stocking policy at the Lloyd store is also simply weird. There are quite a few items that the store keeps one of. Not one case -- one unit. Try buying canned Safeway lemon-lime seltzer there. Just try. It's a popular item, good and cheap, but there is room for only four six-packs of it on the shelf. And there's never any there. Never. Maybe you can track down one of the kids who work there and see if he or she can bootleg you a couple of sixes out of the back. Although that does the trick on occasion (the wait is only around 10 minutes), the usual answer is no.

But the real capper at the Lloyd Center Safeway store is trying to go to the bathroom. There's only one, unisex rest room, in the back of the store next to the pharmacy, and it is so heinously filthy that you will run for your life rather than touch anything in it. I recently flushed the toilet using my foot. Every known variety of human bodily discharge is there for your visual, tactile, and olfactory absorption.

And getting there is half the fun. To gain entry to this fine comfort station, which is locked (presumably to prevent drug overdoses and prostitution), you first must figure out that you need to go back up to the front of the store. There, after you wait who knows how long to talk to a "customer service" person who's busy on the phone attending to the Mysterious Safeway Agenda, he or she will page the security guard, who is the only person with a key. Then back to the locked bathroom door you go to wait some more. He'll be there in, say, five minutes or so.

Promising my bladder that I'd never return to the Lloyd Center store, I thought I'd try the Rose City Safeway, up where Northeast Fremont meets Sandy Boulevard. Last night was the last time I'll do that. I made the mistake of trying to return empty cans. To begin with, the concrete under my feet at the bottle return machines in the frigid parking lot was so sticky that I nearly pulled a hamstring just trying to step to the next machine. Half the infernal machines weren't functioning, of course, and the one that was, decided that it wasn't going to take Canada Dry Ginger Ale. "Not carried at this store," said the petty little red screen on this noisy robot.

But while I was shopping, I noticed that indeed, that product is carried at this store, and so I asked the "customer service" gal (around 20 years old) if she could give me my deposit back. Since making contact of any kind with the empties is not her job, she hailed a teenage clerk, who informed her, with touching frankness, that he wasn't going to do it, either. So then she paged another teenage clerk, who appeared after around five minutes.

This kid's first order of business was to spend another five minutes verifying that indeed, they do accept this type of can. First he tried to put one through the machine himself to make sure I wasn't lying or hallucinating. Then he had to check with his boss to make sure I wasn't trying to cheat Safeway out of the buck I wanted back. (It says "Oregon deposit - 5 cents" right on the can.) Finally, begrudgingly, he vocalized the count as I -- the customer -- counted the cans out by hand. He then wrote me out a little makeshift slip for the $1.35.

But then, then came the highlight of all my Safeway days and nights over lo, these many years. When I went back to pick up my cart full of groceries and resume shopping, I discovered that someone had taken it from where I left it. I searched around that spot for about 20 yards in every direction. No sign of it. So I returned to the "customer service" queen. Oh, yes, she's right on it once again -- pages yet another teenager. He takes a quick look through the store's cooler, finds nothing, gives me the bad news and the trademark Safeway Blank Stare. And then right back to bagging groceries he goes.

We are now looking at about an hour of my life down the drain.

I got my $7 bottle deposit in cash and left. And I will never, ever, ever willingly return. To any Safeway store in Portland.

The checkout clerks at Safeway make a big deal out of trying to pronounce your last name. I'm sure their headquarters requires them to do it. Hey, Safeway, stop wasting people's time with that. Get busy with a freakin' washrag and a mop, restock the shelves when they're empty, and start hiring some help with at least a slight clue about actual customer service.

Comments (17)

wow, that IS icky. We have two safeways out here, one in North Bend and one in Coos Bay, and both are clean, with accessible bathrooms, working can-cashiers (those machines.. i dunno what they're really called) and generally nice, helpful employees.

Which is kinda weird, because when i was growing up in SoCal, Safeway was a bit second-rate, sort of how i see IGA stores, now.

Sounds a lot like my local Shop-Rite. Blecch.

The Title should be "Extremely Grumpy Old Man with Cans"

the QFCs always seem to be tidy, but lacking in inventory...Zupan's is great at times, but other times you need Tuna Helper more than a trip through the olive bar or a rainbow gerbera daisy arrangement with eucalyptus. But alas, no luck with basic stuff like boxed pasta.

It's very strange to me, because being a Eugenius myself, I always found grocery stores in your area so different...sometimes dirty, other times lacking normal items, very small...

When I relocate, I'll probably have a four hour round trip to the grocery store, if you catch my drift.

I go to the LLoyd Safeway only if I am right in the middle of cooking something and don't have a certain ingredient and said ingredient is available in a well-sealed can or bottle. Or if I need a prescription filled. The pharmacists are surprisingly competent compared to the "special" workers at Fred Meyer Hollywood.

There's one cashier at Safeway who is so truly frightening that I don't want her to read my name aloud for fear she can capture my soul. So I avoid her lane if possible; she seethes bad energy.

I try to do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's (limited inventory compared to 'super'-markets, but how many types of canned peas do you need?). Good prices, good food, the junk that I might otherwise be tempted to buy is not even there! For household-y stuff I try to hit Bi-Mart (good prices, locally owned) or Fred Meyer (great selection, no 'club card' crap to get savings).

Also, WAL-MART is the Devil. ;^)

I hate Safeway. My story is more frightening, though: every time my husband and I start buying something regularly, within 3 months Safeway stops carrying it. Instant mashed potatoes that only require water, not milk and butter? Gone. King Hawaiian brand frozen rice bowls? Gone. Plain white rice that you boil yourself, in the small box quantity? Gone--replaced by 3 shelves of different size boxes of Minute Rice (and the store brand equivalent). This is the Hawthorne Safeway, but we've also managed to make the 39th and Powell Safeway follow suit.

When I first moved here I shopped at the Lloyd Center Safeway because I was scared of the shear size of Fred Meyers. But after awhile I really didn't like the fact that there was always a group of heroine junkies hanging out in the front wanting my money. As if I needed to pay the Junky Tax. I really don't have a problem with Fred Meyers as their customer service is pretty good if you use the self check out lane and don't return any bottles and cans of stuff they don't sell. What is up with that? I am new to this state and I don't understand how a store can refuse to give you your deposit back on a can that was purchased in Oregon. Is it not a state program? Is the store allowed to keep the money if the deposit is not returned or does it have to turn it over to the state?

Kris is exactly right. It's SPOOKY how consistently we find that items we've started buying regularly at Safeway suddenly vanish from the shelves. It's like the scene from "Conspiracy Theory" where Mel Gibson's character buys a copy of Catcher in the Rye and you get an electron's-eye view of the signal traveling to Bad Guy HQ to let them know where he is.

"Uh oh! This is the third week in a row that they've bought Idaho Band Instant Potatoes--clear the shelves! Stat!"

And, as usual, when I've complained (repeatedly) I get the blank-eyed stare. When did "managers" become drones with zero authority and zero control over what goes on in their stores?

I don't go to Safeway simply because they are a corporate behemoth. When I visited last month, I was so disappointed to see London full of Safeways. I do a little of my shopping at Wild Oats and most of it at People's Food Co-op in SE Portland. Local food, organic, cozy, fairly inexpensive, friendly, community-oriented, good cause, aaaaaah.

Jack, you're getting cranky. Your complaints revolve around taking your cans and bottles back? I know your neighborhood (it's mine too), and we have curb service for cans and bottles--just leave them in a bag beside your recycling bins on garbage day, and nice men with nice shopping carts take away the cans and bottles. No fuss, no muss. As you point out, your time is worth much more than the money you get for returning them.

I've never posted on here before but it struck me as very funny and horrifyingly true. If you REALLY need a scare, however, head over to the Winco foods in Tigard. They've recently upgraded their can return system, but before the remodel it made Safeway's can central look like Tiffany's. I go to Safeway for ONLY one reason and that is because they continually refer to me as "Evelyn Stinson." It cracks me up. I am obviously a male but the clerks look right at me as I'm leaving the check-out and say "Have a good day Mrs. Stinson." Now THAT is top shelf. Keeps me coming back.

I'm curious about the statement that Safeway won't give deposits on products it doesn't sell (as I have noticed when I have brought my Albertson's "Dr. Skipper" to the Safeway bottle return machines). Is this legal? It really shouldn't be.

Just came across your website by accident. Actually live in London and found Jacks article on his experiences in Safeway amusing. Just for Emily's benefit, please note that Safeway in the U.K. is completely separate from Safeway in the U.S. The U.K. side of the business was bought from Safeway Inc in 1987 by a Scottish company called Argyll Group PLC. As a result, the Safeway stores in the U.K. (they are mainly based in Scotland and the South of England) are pretty good. However, they are not as profitable compared to the big three supermarket chains over here: Tesco, Asda(now owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury's. So now Safeways is being taken over by another supermarket chain who are big in the North of England, Morrisons.

I’m very glad to see an anti-Safeway web site! I have stopped going to Safeway not because of clueless youth employees or poor can return procedures (Washingtonian), I have boycotted the grocery beast do to the slightly communist club card. When the store was a normal grocery I went there exclusively for 5 plus years. I shouldn’t have to have a club card for regular prices! Hold the line! Shop at a normal grocery store without club cards! Thanks for the rant.

safeway is satan. they have shut down all the local
competition in washougal and camas unless you want to drive farther out ( I live up the gorge ) to
a QFC/Abertson's.

I'm only shopping winco anymore. Safeway has rediculous prices. It's a joke of a monopoly.
I can't support that.

Shut down the competition, then jack all the prices
through the roof seems to be the strategy.


i probably shouldn't tell people about this, but it's too wierd to not write about. Definitely a sign of the times: i'm walking into the 24-hr Safeway on 39th and Powell, and a youngish, hip-looking guy on a cellphone walks by me with a lil basket filled with several bottles of wine. the alarm beeps and i watch as the lone checker, who is checking groceries at his register, simply yells, "HEY, BUDDY?!" The guy doesn't run--he just saunters out, gabbing to probably nobody on his phone. Standing there, presuming to watch this blatant thief get nabbed, nobody does anything. i asked the clerk if he wasn't going to stop him, and he said it was new store policy (just since the new mgr had decided to get rid of having a guard) to NOT stop anyone now to even ask if they had paid for their items! The other employees all concurred--people can just walk out with anything, and the staff just ignores the beeping alarm. Being on unemployment, i then asked why was i paying for this stuff. The guy shrugged...
Personally, i go to People's, but if i need (lots of) cat food or fresh bagels or affordable TP, i go to "the store Safeway forgot": Hawthorne Safeway looks downright forgotten, as they make all these other Safeways plush and stupid. Look at the sign on Hawthorne! It looks like it's gonna fall over. Even the Starbucks they stuck in there looks ridiculously out of place. This funky-ass store has the happiest workers, and they've been there forever. 3 of them even listen to late-night radio on KBOO and often talk to me about what they heard (i do a show). i even get hugs at this run-down store, where it isn't unusual for a conversation to encompass lots of people in the lines, like at a bar. it sort of wakes 'em up, like they thought they're supposed to be staring into space at Jen's boob job, then they weigh in...


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