I haven’t always been an Aldi Shopper. In fact, I must confess that due to my very few experiences in a Northern Illinois Aldi in the 1990s, I used to frequently refer to it as “the armpit of grocery stores.” Back then, it was dirty, dimly lit, poorly stocked with very few freshies (and the ones available were wilted and withered) and they only took cash (which I very infrequently carried.) I wondered, when they first moved in right in front of the county’s only Super Wal-Mart, why on earth we’d need an armpit store in front of the mega discount Wally.
Then a friend (and the sour economy) changed my mind. Now, both in my Wisconsin shopping area and in Illinois, they’ve brightened the stores up, stocked them well (with even some pretty cool gourmet items) and their produce is fairly plentiful in variety and the prices send me throwing my arms up in “wow-look-at-my-deal” victory.
It took a few trips and the consent to make two lists and two stops (they still don’t have EVERYthing I need), but Aldi is almost always part of my grocery shop. Besides the prices and the better atmosphere, I’ve found that it’s a representation of real world people and it really exemplifies quite a bit of what I value.
On any given day, one might find in the parking lot, several economy sedans, a 1980 VW Rabbit, a beat up pick-up, a 2011 Mercedes, a few mini vans and a Corvette (of any vintage.) What I will report is that I’ve yet to see a shiny Hummer in the lot. (Why someone needs one of those in a country filled with paved roads is beyond me, honestly.)
Inside, you will find someone pushing a cart filled with nothing but spaghetti dinner fixings. You’ll find an elderly couple with calculators out. You’ll find a mom reading labels, a teenager asking for pizza puffs and a toddler reaching WAY over the cart to snag a box of cereal. You’ll also find a dad who knows his way around the store like the back of his hand and you’ll find a lady in a fur coat and heels with about 11 “staple” gourmet items, giddy at the deal she just scored. You’ll also find a man with no cart, three cans of food on the checkout belt and a hand not-quite-full of change.
What a love about Aldi is that, unlike most places in our country, it expects a bit of accountability. You need to pay a quarter to “rent” your cart. When you return it from the weather and dust in the parking lot, you get your quarter back. You need to bring your own bags or find an empty box within the shelves or buy your bags at check-out, or just unload your loot from your cart into your trunk. You also bag your own groceries. If your hamburger buns arrive home squished or your eggs are broken, it’s on you – not the infamous “they” we love to blame.
You can’t put your groceries on credit either. Charge-it and owe-it won’t fly. It’s cash or debit card – a smart way to roll if you like to live within your means.
I find that most people are friendly and there is a mutual understanding that this may not be easy (buying food on a budget, knowing what to buy, going to multiple stores) but we’re all here together. We all have to eat. The first time I saw someone I knew, I felt the same way I did during the only time I walked into an unemployment office – small, defeated, and pretty ticked off at the hand I’d been dealt. Now, I bounce in that place with this wild pride like I’ve been accepted into a prestigious secret club.
We know what’s up. Prices everywhere! We’ve found a few solutions. One of them is the bicep of grocery stores. They keep it real.