by Nan Roche and Janet Hawley
When we each moved here in the ‘80s, our immediate community was a food shopping desert — look at us now! We have six supermarkets to choose from: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Giant, Safeway, Lidl and Shoppers Food Warehouse. In preparation to write this piece, we visited each store to check out the scene. We also pushed our carts around Costco, even though its well-stocked shelves are a bit further from outside the city limits.
Our reporting here is based on our experiences and opinions. We didn’t agree on a favorite store, which is based, in part, on how each of us shops. Nan prefers Whole Foods, despite the expense, and Janet, who is more of a comparison shopper, leans to Lidl and Giant. That said, here’s how we think all of these stores stack up.
Let’s start with Whole Foods. It definitely ranks as the most expensive but makes up for it with a wide range of offerings, including a great hot bar and huge salad spread, a pizza oven, sushi bar, cheese selection, fresh pastas and an in-store bakery that turns out great artisanal breads and pastries, with hard-to-beat variety and quality. The store’s welcoming, though often crowded; the customer service and check-out workers were generally friendly. If you can afford the expense, we think it’s a good option for a couple or small family.
Trader Joe’s is the city’s newest store — what a fun place to shop! Lots of interesting prepared foods, which we hear is one of Joe’s super powers. Fresh produce and a few other staples (like cheeses) are somewhat limited, but the snack aisles are burgeoning with bags of the most tantalizing chips, cookies and crackers, including lots that are TJ’s store brand. No self-checkout, but the lines move quickly. We loved the playful ambiance, and staff members were upbeat and personable. The College Park store has underground parking, a real boon in bad weather.Try out the tofu teriyaki fried rice in the freezer section; we think it’s delicious.
Lidl had the best overall pricing but more limited offerings. This international discount retailer got its start in Germany, and even the chain’s U.S. stores offer a wide selection of European foods. The store’s inexpensive pastries and other baked goods were interesting, and we had fun coming upon unexpected items, including T-shirts and kitchen tools. Lidl is a bit of a warehouse, and you bag your own groceries, but items are easy to find and staff was helpful. Download the Lidl app and you get discount coupons and special pricing on some items. Plenty of easy parking.
Safeway and Giant — what can we say? You all know what they offer, including their store-brand items, and you probably even know where to find everything you need to make that Valentine’s Day dinner you’re already dreaming about. Not a thrilling ambience, but these stores do have just about everything. And with your store card, you can snag some good prices. Of the two, Janet prefers Giant for its quality and affordability.
Shoppers Food Warehouse is next on our list, with moderate pricing, moderate variety, and moderately okay ambiance. We hear that their doughnuts are some of the best in the area, though some of us would drive to Ocean City’s Fractured Prune on a Saturday morning for perhaps the best donuts we’ve ever had.
Costco – what can we say, part 2? Terrific prices, terrific quality, terrifically large quantities on many things. An experience! If you shop to feed a family, diaper a newborn or outfit your office, the prices — and especially the monthly bargains — can more than offset the cost of that membership card — We think it’s worth it.
Whichever grocery store you prefer, it’s a gift to have such a variety to choose from. And be sure to look for extra copies of the Here & Now at each of College Park’s grocery stores and scoop a few copies to share with a friend!