Alabama-based grocery store chain Bruno’s has announced that they are bankrupt. As such, one of the major grocery stores here in Montgomery is closing for good. We noticed the news when we drove by the store (there’s no Bruno’s on our side of town) and our eyes were caught by the enormous “EVERYTHING MUST GO” banners on the outside of the store, claiming “25 TO 50 PERCENT OFF!” Bruno’s is a good grocery store. It was our Store of Choice back in Tuscaloosa. They’re clean and carry a passably decent supply of vegetarian, organic and imported foods, along with basic Southern produce and other staples of our diet.
Being both poor and curious, we simply had to go take a look. The only cart available was the one for children, where the cart is designed to look like a racecar. We think maybe they had sold the other carts, since all the fixtures inside were also for sale. Here is what we found inside the soon-to-be-closed Bruno’s grocery store near Bell and Vaughn roads:
It was very interesting to see what people had cleaned out. For example, all of the mac and cheese was gone. Ditto, the basic kinds of peanut butter. Large sections of the bread were gone, but the whole wheat loaves all
remained. The soup was pretty barren, except for the special “pink ribbon” brand of breast cancer themed tomato soup. Someone should tell the American Cancer Society that their “pink label” sponsorship of Campbell’s tomato soup repels people, even when the soup is 25 percent off.
Virtually all of the organic label stuff remained. Also, anything with special ingredients. For example, the regular peanut butter was cleared out, but all of the kind with “Added Vitamins!” was still on the shelf. I found myself nodding in agreement with the mysterious bargain shoppers that had been there before me. I too hate the trend towards putting added vitamins and medicines into basic food products. I will never purchase that kind of orange juice with the extra additives.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that the veggie burgers were basically cleaned out. There were some veggie “chicken” strips left up at the top of the freezer, and we’re big fans of these, so Kate got up to get the last ones and ended up bashing her head open on the top of the freezer case. A war wound!
Most people did not seem to be stocking up like we were. Most people seemed to be there either out of basic curiosity, or just to see if they could get an extra one-time dollar off on Oreos or whatever. We quickly took the approach that it would be smart to stock up on non-perishable staples as much as possible. Thus, we ended up with five jars of highly-coveted Mrs. Renfroe’s habanero salsa and three bottles of our favorite salad dressings.
In several ways, the experience was quite creepy. Not only were people there, shuffling zombie-like behind their carts while they picked over never-to-be-refilled shelves of food, but the whole place had a quiet air of desperation, as if people thought that saving a few extra cents on orange drink would really help out this month. There were remnants of happier economic times (the fall) in displays like this one perched on a forgotten freezer top: a
harvest feast with high-end products and happy scarecrow. Maybe a focus on selling the expensive olive oil and organic wine was one of the reasons the place is going out of business now? Adding to the end-times effect was the sporadic burst of pre-recorded jingle: the burst of siren sound followed by, “Attention shoppers! Don’t forget to try the delicious Bruno’s produce section, full of locally-grown crisp garden veggies!” It felt like some kind of Omega Man type scenario.
This is truly bad news for Montgomery. When a grocery store goes under, it takes a lot of collateral damage down with it. That building is just going to sit there, like a toothless socket, for a long time. It will be an open wound in that shopping center, gaping while the secondary stores in the strip mall slowly die off. Not having a grocery store really sucks the economic oxygen out of a section of town. There are certainly sections of Montgomery that are already in this position, but it’s not hard to say that that’s not the direction that you want your area to be headed.
Now, it is possible that a “bargain” grocery store will move in. This happened
in my hometown of Troy after Food World closed (the low-rent Bruno’s chain). They got a handful of vulture chains, the kind that don’t really have produce at all, but are merely one step above the “dented can” basement dwelling predator grocery franchises that move into the ghetto to poison poor people with their toxic “food.” Frankly, having these kinds of stores may drive down property values more than having a giant empty shopping center. At least that inspires more hope than the place that stocks Hamburger Helper in the “health food” section and primarily acts as a check cashing outlet.
Why did this happen? We got an idea when looking at coffee. “Man, even at 25 percent off, I can still get my Starbucks for cheaper at Wal-Mart!” one guy told us. “I’m just gonna’ go to Wal-Mart.” Wow. Even the death throes of a grocery store still cannot beat the artificially low prices of the Walton family empire. No wonder our economy is dying. Then, at the checkout, I was talking to the clerk about what was the most she had ever spent on groceries. She said she and her mom often could spend $250 when they make their regular trips to Sam’s Club. Another Wal-Mart reference! Two in one night from total strangers on the trip to the dying grocery store.
There’s a lot more than Wal-Mart to be said about why Montgomery seems to be dying. There are probably a wide variety of economic factors as to why this Bruno’s is closing, including some large number of decisions made at the corporate level of this particular chain. Like what seemed to be a bizzarely
large amount of space devoted to reusable wine bags. But even if the reasons for the store all originate in the Bruno’s boardroom and are not reflections on that area of Montgomery’s ability to support a (very, relative to Publix, Fresh Market, forget about Whole Foods, etc.) marginally upscale grocery store, it’s still bad news that will hit Montgomery hard. Our city isn’t exactly in a position to vibrantly recover from a corporate blunder by plugging in an eager competitor to snap up the consumer dollars of former Bruno’s customers.
We’ll be lucky if a payday lender doesn’t move in to replace it.