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Why I Miss Going to the Grocery

June 28, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

I didn’t appreciate how much local shopping creates community.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have not set foot in a grocery store – or any other kind of store for that matter. And I don’t miss it.

I don’t miss the errands and the schlepping. And despite my earlier complaints, I have gotten used to having my groceries delivered. In fact, I may never set foot in a grocery store again!

That said, not all stores offer a delivery service, particularly the local kosher ones. For now, my son has been fulfilling that responsibility for me. At some point in the not-so-distant future, he will leave to begin his working life, having graduated college virtually (sparing us long boring commencement ceremonies and speeches but definitely a little anti-climactic for him) while we sheltered-in-place and I will have to grab my mask and gloves and venture out.

I’m not looking forward to it – both because of my health concerns and because I’ve enjoyed the extra time at my disposal when all those chores are taken off my list. But there is one thing I miss. Since a lot of my errands are in my neighborhood, I miss the sense of community they provide. I don’t know the Instacart delivery person and it’s a different one every time. Whether the groceries come from Ralph’s or Smart and Final or Costco, they are all strangers. It is a purely business transaction. Frequently I don’t even see the groceries being dropped on my porch. I just get an email and by the time I open the door, there isn’t a human being in sight.

When I used to go to the cleaners, I’d stop and schmooze with the owner who we’ve known for many years. We know the owners of the watch store and the neighborhood jewelry repair. Likewise, with the tailor and the women behind the counter at the bakery. We know the restaurant owners and some of the regular waitresses (even though we aren’t such regular customers). It’s part of having lived in the same area for a long time.

Even as some of those establishments remained open or are re-opening, I’m still basically at home. I’m still not venturing out, not resuming that casual contact and conversation. I’ve maintained my relationships with my friends which is of course more important, with my students which is of course deeply important and with my family which is the most important of all.

But I don’t think I realized the importance of these more casual aspects of my community. I didn’t stop to think about the sense of security and stability they bring to my life, the sense of rootedness in a particular place. It’s not one individual per se but the group of familiar service people in my neighborhoo who contribute in no small way to my sense of belonging.

There are so many ways that this unique situation has highlighted values and people and phenomena that are important; this is yet another one. And I hope that when I do venture out (may it be soon!) it will be with renewed appreciation for these people who seem to be at the periphery at my life – but aren’t really. And I hope I won’t be too shy, too embarrassed, too reticent to tell them what they mean to me – and that I truly missed them.

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