Two stores
Worlds apart

By Jack Neworth

Not that anybody asked, but when I go grocery shopping I frequent two completely different stores and manage to find value in each. The first is Whole Foods, so pricey Bill Maher dubs it “Whole Paycheck”. My second stop is at the 99cent Store which, since the Pandemic could easily be named “The $2.49Cent Store.” Both establishments are in the Lincoln/Rose Shopping Center which over time has experienced so much crime in the ineptly configured parking lot I refer to it as “The O.K. Corral Shopping Center.”

At Whole Foods men and women are great looking, especially women in their high end stylish yoga gear. On the other hand, many 99Cent customers are apparently comfortable in the sweat pants and t-shirts they slept in. (Ouch!) Even the shopping carts reflect a big divide. The Whole Foods carts are pristine and glide effortlessly along the polished floors.

On the other hand, the 99Cent Store carts often have a front wheel that wobbles making a loud noise and feels like pushing a lawn mower. Frustrated, when I go back to the front to exchange it for a good cart, often there aren’t any. Worse, customers, annoyed by the noise, glare at me as if it’s my fault. (Maybe I should carry a can of W-D 40 in my pocket?)

The carts at 99 now have a pole that sticks up in the air so high that after you check out, you can’t exit the front door. You either have to pull your car up front and load your groceries that way or, on occasion, a security guard might walk you to your car so that the cart doesn’t wind up as portable storage for some unfortunate homeless person in the group that tends to gather north of the store. So here’s my M-O.

I always go to Whole Foods first, buy chicken and ground beef and whatever else my wallet will allow and go to the checkout station. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can feel a tad inferior in Whole Foods. Oh, I can keep up a conversation but I know I’m faking my tax bracket. Also embarrassing to admit is when I enter the 99cent Store, I can feel a tad superior as I push my non-wobbling Whole Foods cart that doesn’t have a ridiculous pole sticking up in the air like a lightning rod. Sometimes I see customers stare as if to say, “Who does he think he is?”

Whereas in Whole Foods I might overhear the happy shoppers talking about their vacation in the Hampton’s or how their 401k’s are doing, I don’t have to worry about that at the 99Cent Store. What I might worry about, because it’s happened, is coming face to face with a deranged Travis Bickle type (think Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver”) whom I nervously expected to menacingly ask, “Are you talkin’ to me?”

When shopping I proudly wear my UCLA Alum cap which recently came in handy. Apparently the 99Cent Store register would only accept a $50 bill for a purchase of $10 or more. It still doesn’t make sense but with a long line of frustrated customers behind me moaning their bad luck getting in line behind me. I was in a bind. Suddenly a generous woman volunteered, “I went to UCLA, too” as she insisted on paying for my purchase. However, when I told her what year I graduated, she acted like she wondered where my walker was. (I wasn’t thrilled but she paid for my groceries and may have prevented a mini riot in line, so I thanked her profusely and firmly shook her hand like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At Whole Foods I’ve never witnessed shoplifting whereas twice I have at the 99Cent Store. However, in California for items stolen under $950 in value it’s a misdemeanor. That means law enforcement probably won’t bother to investigate and if they do often prosecutors will let it go. At Whole Foods enough filet mignon might come to $950 but you’d need a truck to shoplift it.

Normally when I get positive emails about my column, if they’re so inclined, I encourage the sender to share it. This column, however, I prefer you use it to line your birdcage (as an unhappy female reader revealed she did). I replied, “At least it was good for something.”

The fact is I worry one day, as I pleasantly push the Whole Foods shopping cart to the 99Cent Store, I might be accosted by a brawny security guard repossessing their cart. This could leave me pushing a 99Cent Store cart with the pole shaking and the front wheel wobbling all of which could drive another Travis Bickle look-alike to go bananas. (By the way bananas at Whole Foods are almost twice as expensive as the 99Cent Store.)

For some laughs, I mean more laughs, please Google “It’s Getting Real At The Whole Foods Parking Lot.” Jack is at: