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Calm down, it's a Ralphs, not a Pinkberry's

July 21, 2007|Mark Kendall | MARK KENDALL is a freelance writer based in Ontario.

IN MY NARROW little 909 area-code mind, I had pegged the people moving into downtown Los Angeles as a bunch of loft-living, Peet's-sipping, club-hopping hipsters, and the neighborhood as just a vertical version of Silver Lake or Santa Monica.

But it turns out that downtown residents are just regular folks, even an innocent lot. They've gone gaga over a ... grocery store. Witness the years of anticipation and Harry Potter-like hype leading up to Friday's opening of a Ralphs supermarket in South Park.

Sure, the store was billed as the area's first full-fledged market in decades. But should a supermarket's opening day draw live, in-store TV news coverage and, as The Times reported, a crowd of more than 1,000 people with some chanting, "Open! Open!"? Would a new Rite-Aid merit a ticker-tape parade? Should Becks and Posh preside at the groundbreaking for some future Bunker Hill Bed, Bath & Beyond?

Out in the Inland Empire, we've had supermarkets for years now. So I feel obligated to warn downtown shoppers: Those warm feelings that come with your first walk down the produce aisle are bound to fade.

Decades of grocery chain mergers and closures have left me a tad jaded. Remember the Safeway '70s? The Alpha Beta '80s? All that remain are the memories of strident ad slogans ("Tell a friend!") and the insistent jingles we can't get out of our heads ("Lucky! Lucky! Where great deals begin ... ")

Don't be shocked the next time you leave your cozy South Park cocoon and head out to the crazy, coupon-clipping 'burbs, with all those competing supermarkets on the make for customers. A lot of us, well, we shop around.

My local Vons comes on pretty strong, with cheery cashiers always asking if I need help out no matter how few items I buy. British behemoth Tesco will soon tempt shoppers here with its Fresh & Easy stores. And Stater Bros.? That place is a meat market.

But I have to admit that the endless chasing of bargains and squeezing of produce only bring fleeting thrills. There are times when I ask myself: What am I doing with my life, drifting from store to store with zero customer loyalty, leaving behind a trail of wobbly carts and jilted hearts?

Maybe South Park's hearty urban pioneers have it right. Maybe it's time I abandon the overgrown suburbs and head downtown for that old-fashioned, one-shop simple life.

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