Shopping

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Grocer X: For the love of gameday

Posted By on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 1:30 PM

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The grill’s in the tailgate, chili’s on the stove, and you’re suited in full regalia: it’s football season, and Lord knows you love gameday.

You love it so much you’re willing to spend endless hours mastering each layer of your seven layer bean dip, while smoking mountains of meat and negotiating fantasy trade proposals each and every Sunday (sometimes Monday, and a Thursday here and there).

Such a love calls for many sacrifices, but those sacrifices shouldn’t include the agony of prolonged exile from the one you love. So why then are you wasting precious time in the grocery on the sacred day?

I could say something like, "Put your gameface on and score a touchdown with…" but I’m not joking around anymore. If you’re a serious fan looking to cut through the endless pregame and get down to business, spend the least amount of time in the grocery store with this list:

Go early, because every other fan, family, and a multitude of church congregations make their way to the store around the same time the first games start. Besides, you’ll already be up; prepping whatever meat you’ll demolish later on, or agonizing over your fantasy lineups.

Going early — before 10 a.m.-ish — will clear you of most the annoyances of the gameday shopping trip; shorter wait times at the checkout and service counters, newer, plentiful stock, and more veteran employees to get you in and out. (Veteran employees tend to be more inclined to offer a helping hand, they’re used to it.) Chances are some items won’t be stocked yet, but if we’re ordering like we should those items are in the back.

Know before you go, because you can’t make bacon-wrapped jalapeños without jalapeños, and your gluttonous queso recipe is screwed without Velveeta. You’re not the only one who’s “known for your (whatever),” everyone else is on the same level — so yeah, we run out of stuff on gameday.

All I can tell you is that if you didn’t go early, and you’re really concerned about how many pounds of tomatillos we’ll have in stock for your salsa verde, call and ask. It’s hard to tell what tailgating trend is going to hit from week to week; sometimes it’s chili, other times it’s pulled pork, but it’s up to you to be ahead of the game. Puffin’ your chest out and getting all broey with we employees isn’t going to get you anywhere when we’re out of something, I don't care how new that Manning jersey is.

Don’t bring the family, because you know the reason why. The kids are running amuck looking for toys and “snacks,” and your significant other is prepared to conquer a list suited for the entire week. Toting the family along will only increase the amount of time and money you’re spending in the store on gameday. This cannot happen. You need to be in and out, like your chances at the playoffs in your fantasy league, so unless your entire family has their eyes set on the same goal you do, leave them at home.

Practice makes perfect. It’s not easy being the best at anything, but you’ll have more time to practice your gameday rituals if you take my advice and get your pigskin lovin’ self out the grocery store as soon as possible.

— Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Grocer X: The last holiday

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 8:20 AM

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We’re staring Labor Day right in the face and, because this is America, that means we’re looking at our last big barbecue holiday of the summer. (I mean really, what else is Labor Day good for?) But as you ready for your final summertime-soirée shopping trip, keep in mind what happened during the last holiday, and probably the one before that, and definitely the one before that.

Remember? You took yourself to the store not only on the day of your gathering, but within a couple hours of your guests arriving, thinking that it would all go swimmingly and you’d be out the door and prepping to party in no time. Unfortunately, everyone and their mother had the same bright idea, and you found yourself battling for a parking spot, cursing the barren shelves, and forced to wait in checkout lines longer than your patience can handle. Remember?

It was an awful experience; everyone, customers and employees alike, were in the worst of moods, and you had to skip some of your usual summertime staples.

So why on Earth, you should ask yourself, would you ever go holiday shopping on a holiday?

How can you be the least bit surprised that the store might run out of red-white-and-blue cupcakes on the 4th of July? Is it really that unbelievable that none of the avocados for sale on Memorial Day are ripe enough to use? Do you plan all our your get-togethers mere hours before they happen? 

I’m not talking about the "Oops, I forgot the blueberries" trip here. I’m talking about the "Our friends will be here in an hour and I need every single component of my BBQ before they get here" trip.

We in the grocery industry plan our holiday stocking through the weeks leading up to it, with the busiest days just prior to. But the holiday stops when the day comes. So while we’d love to have an ample amount of every item you’ll surely be looking for, we’re more worried about time-sensitive packaging and your aversion to buying anything in American flag wrapper after the 4th of July. The risk of sitting on a shipment of “Corn Cobblers” for a year is too great to try and accommodate your shopping procrastination.

It’s not just the summer holidays; the “Holiday Season” everyone knows and loves is a whole other nightmare, but the message is the same: Holidays are for holidays, not for shopping.

So enjoy your Labor Day, the whole day, away from the grocery store.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grocer X: The plight of the shopping cart

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 8:13 AM

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Used, abused, neglected and abandoned; this is the life of shopping cart. Hauling all your items around while you wander from aisle to aisle, it’s the workhorse of your shopping trips. You cherish the cart when you’re in the store; you protect it, you trust it with your children and to handle your food, you rely on it every trip. So what changes when you get to the parking lot? What treachery has come to light that has you abandoning your trusted pack mule on the side of the curb, or wedged in between parking spaces?

You know you’ve done it. You’ve placed your bags in the car, glanced over your shoulders to ensure no passersby or employees bear witness to the coming betrayal, and you’ve turned your back, setting your shopping companion afloat in the sea of parking spaces. It doesn’t even matter if the “cart corral” — or whatever other cutesy name they have — is conveniently located near you or not, you don’t bat an eye, not even a look back in the review mirror.

Left alone and unwanted, shopping carts are forced to face the most extreme weather conditions, scarred by the elements of the seasons with the only hope that their 16 year old shepherds can take a break from bagging groceries and bring them to safety. Their wheels are broken, with bearings rusted-through, and they yearn for a dented frame over the ever-looming threat of kidnapping by the homeless — what a life.

You’re right, ‘it’s someone else’s job’ to bring the carts in from the lot. But their job should only be to bring in the carts from the corrals, not trailblazing through the depths of the property in search for those left behind. On top of bagging groceries, mopping floors, and restocking items to the shelves, organizing a local search party for the missing shopping carts strewn across the parking lot shouldn’t have to be on the daily agenda.

All this is to say that when you’re done with your shopping cart put it where it belongs.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grocer X: Picking Perfection

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 8:41 AM

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Summertime in the produce department means a wide variety of the sweetest-smelling soft fruits, a plethora of melon options, and grilling vegetables just aching for char marks. To some, myself included, you can’t ask for a better produce season. But picking summer produce can be risky, and there’s nothing worse than finding yourself on the losing side of a watermelon gamble at your Labor Day barbecue.

I’m sure you’ve seen the “naturally ripe,” and “picked at the peak of perfection” claims emblazoned on the sides of peach boxes and stamped on avocado stickers. All lies. The truth is, unless you’re making some poor sap of a clerk pick all your produce for you, you’re on your own out there. And the more expensive it gets, the less confident you become in your picking prowess. Eventually, you starve yourself of the summer’s sweetest flavors.

Now, I’m not going to say I’m an expert — though plenty of you call us clerks, “the produce expert” — or that it’s my way or the highway, and I’m certainly not going to give you an engrossing list of tricks. I’ll just pick a few of your summertime staples and let you take it from there.

Look at my melons
All innuendo aside, melons are hot in the summertime: cantaloupe, honeydew, Santa Clause, canary, whatever suits your fancy. But with different kinds of melons come different ways of picking.

The fabled “watermelon thump” really is the best way to pick a watermelon. Color shouldn’t be a big concern — unless it’s something other than green — so give it thump with your thumb and listen for that hollow sound. Cantaloupes are a different animal. Yeah, sniffing the button to catch a whiff of the flavor works sometimes, but it’s not a tell-all. Personally, I look for sweet spots (the spots on the skin that resemble bruises), and a drier rind. Some people say to shake it to see if the seeds on the inside are loose, so I’ll do that too, if only for giggles. What you want is anything that shows that the ’loupe is using up its built-up moisture and thus, is ripe.

Honeydew is actually pretty easy, no sniffing or assaulting necessary. All you need from honeydew is a waxy residue on the rind to know it’s ready to go. Seriously, waxy like a candle. Don’t ask me how that works.

Guac and awe
Granted, avocado is more than just a summer favorite, it’s a year-round superfood. I don’t need to tell you what a ripe avo looks like — the problem is when all we have is the greenest of the green on display, and your party starts this afternoon. You’ve heard of the brown-paper-bag ripening theory, but that hasn’t helped me quell my guacamole cravings in the past.

If you’re looking to hasten the ripening of an avocado, pop the remaining portion of the stem off the top and get it into some serious sunlight — I’ll sometimes leave them on the dashboard in the car for a while.

Pineapple with a cherry on top
I’ll get the pineapple myth out of the way and tell you that no, loose leaves at the top don’t always mean it’s ripe. Go for color; the darker hues of yellow, blended with lighter shades of brown, ensure that pineapple being sweet on the inside. You’ll smell the flavor, too. If you’re looking for a more tart flavor, look for some lighter greens turning to yellow.

As for cherries, usually one of the most expensive summer favorites, there’s a reason for the iconic red cherry. The deeper the red, the sweeter the cherry — just be mindful of any wrinkling on the skin. Even with Rainier cherries (yellow and red), I go for the bag with the most red visible. Who knows if there’s a science behind this — I’m just thinking, “If colors were flavors, yellow would be more tart than red.” Call me crazy, but my instincts save me from pitching $7 bags of cherries more often than not.

Through all my years of picking, placing, tasting and sampling summertime produce stock, I’ve realized that Mom’s plucking of the leaves from the top of a pineapple, or taking a whiff of the button of a cantaloupe, doesn’t always ensure the fresh, crisp flavors we’re looking for. There’s always that chance that those perfect-looking peaches will be pithy and plain, and honeydew will always be kind of mysterious, but now you have some new tricks to pick your produce and you can leave the clerks alone.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Grocer X: Self-checkout, you’re doing it wrong

Posted By on Sun, Aug 3, 2014 at 7:00 AM

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In light of recent events, that being a shooting at a local grocery, I could give you more on the terrifying perils grocery workers face day in and day out, but I’m not into the doom and gloom this week.

I’ve realized that you, the customer, face your own nightmares every time you walk through the automatic doors. Sure, they’re probably not the monsters that haunt my dreams (though, admittedly, some employees can be pretty awful too), but a group of teenage shoplifters firing weapons in the parking lot could be added to that list. Maybe your outlook is a little less dramatic, and you just like to be in and out of the store as quickly as possible all the time. The point is, you want your shopping trips to be as streamlined as possible and that usually means you look to the self-checkout to make it happen.

Now, if you’re someone who brings a $200 order to the self-check and blunders through what seems like hours to scan, weigh, and bag all your groceries by yourself, you’re a terrible person and this post won’t help you.

Yeah, I know, “those things never work,” and “they always get things wrong,” but I’m telling you right now it’s usually operator error. It’s really not that hard; scan an item to start, enter your membership-whatever (if you have one), finish scanning your items, pay, and leave.

Everything you need to complete your order is right there for you. The scale, an item guide, a keypad, carry bags, sometimes even an employee, are all you could possibly need to do it yourself — “self-checkout,” get it?
When the sirens are blaring and the machine screams what might as well be, “this person doesn’t know what they’re doing,” it’s usually because you don’t know an item code, tried to use some coupons or marked-down items, or you brought your own shopping bags. These minor, everyday things become the bane of your existence as the line of faces glaring and judging your ineptitude grows longer with each flash of the red light above you.

Want to avoid such humiliation?

If you have coupons make sure you don’t have a lot. One, maybe two, shouldn’t be a problem, but an attending clerk will have to help you either way (Same goes for marked-down items.) Your best bet is to go see the clerk right off the bat; sometimes they can ring you up on the spot.

Produce, baked goods or anything else without a barcode is reason enough for some to avoid the self-checkout all together, but they’re not hard to figure out either. The machine expects you to give it a number to look up, the number you’re looking for is the “PLU,” look at the sticker on an apple or banana and you’ll see it. You can find them on the price tags, stickers, and sometimes the ads, all you need to do is remember it and give it to the machine — write them down if you have to. After you enter the number, it’s as simple as setting it on the scale, or selecting the quantity — wham, bam, thank you madam.

As for your reusable bags, there’s something you should know about the bagging platform at the self-check; it’s weight sensitive. If you set your bags on the platform, or anything that the scanner hasn’t seen, the machine thinks you’ve bagged an item without ringing it up. Some may ask if you’re using your own bags but the feature rarely works, and a clerk will still have to bypass it for you. The best workaround I’ve found is to leave your reusable bags out of the picture until your receipt is printed, then bag everything at once. It may feel a bit unorganized, but if your main goal is to avoid human interaction of any kind, it’s your best bet.

You no longer have to be the symbol of incapability when using the self-checkout lanes if you heed my advice. So, put your smart pants on and show those machines you’re not the idiot it thought you were.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grocer X: Fear and loathing in the checkout lane

Posted By on Sun, Jul 20, 2014 at 7:10 AM

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The quality of time you spend at the checkout counter can make or break your grocery-shopping experience.

The good times have you whisking to the front of the line, welcomed by the warmest of smiling faces offering a friendly chat — maybe even tipping you off to some additional savings — and getting you back to your car with no remorse for spending vast amounts of money. Consider yourself lucky if this is your usual experience.

The bad times, obviously more notable, have you waiting in long lines snaking haphazardly around the front of the registers as distress calls for “checkout service” ring constant from the overhead speakers. Your mood worsens as you watch the register clerks leaving their posts to check price tags at the other end of the store, and again when the elderly gentleman in front of you realizes he left his wallet in the car, scoots his walker across the floor, and assures everyone he’ll be “really quick.” By the time you’re finally out the door, you’ve sworn to never come back more times than you can count, and told several employees you plan to have them fired, while your expensive cuts of beef sit stewing at room temperature and beads of ice cream run down the sides of the container. Terrible.

Those of us on the other side of the conveyor belt see it little differently. There are hardly any good times for people tapping in hundreds of produce codes and scanning handfuls of crumpled, illegible coupons, but there certainly are plenty of bad times. It should be noted that not everyone working a register loathes the thought of being there; it may be that I’m not what you call a “people person” in the traditional sense.

Take the opening lines from an old journal entry I wrote after a particularly awful day at the register:

Face to face with a six-foot Gila monster, I find myself alone in my predicament and past the point of no return. Lashing its tongue in an unrecognizable dialect and flailing its arms — claws gripping a stack of clipped paper savings — this one is ready for a fight.

Harsh, I know. But the truth is, we never know what kind of monstrosity we’ll have to deal with after handing the receipt over to the last customer.

Of course there are shoppers we all love to see, those friendly, familiar faces asking about our days off and more than willing to talk about anything other than groceries — a shining few — but I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about the jerk holding up the line by adding random items to his order just so he can sneak his way to another gas discount, even though he doesn’t know how the promotion works. I’m talking about the “multi-tasking mom,” cranium-deep in a call on her cell and failing to cognitively answer any of my questions while her children wreak havoc among the candy displays, and to the coupon-issuer starting off the transaction with, “I hope you do this right.” These are the monsters I’m talking about.

It makes sense, I guess, that we checkers suffer some of the most abusive forms of human interaction; we’re essentially just bill collectors. But why is it my fault that all those frozen dinners you bought didn’t net you the free gallon of ice cream they did last week, or that the printed ad you brought along is two weeks old and none of the prices match? I don’t care how long you’ve shopped at the store — we have policies, and those coupons are three months expired. Is it really something to throw a fit about?

If only you could see yourselves, in all your glory, lambasting me over the promotional price of a candy bar, or because we stopped carrying that obscure item that literally no one else but you will buy. Maybe then you’ll recognize the predatory nature of your behavior. Maybe you’ll recognize that 9 times out of 10, the customers, you, are actually wrong, and your reasons for taking it out on me would baffle even the most immature of 5-year-olds.

Believe me, I really do try my best to get you in and out the door as quickly and happily as possible. The last thing I want is to spend more time with the ticking time bombs waiting in my line. But I need your help. Or, no, just some common courtesy.

Looking down the row of faces in my line I see more of them; coldblooded creatures walking upright, talking on cell phones, even handling money. How has it come to this? Who let this happen? This is a grocery store, not a goddamn reptile sanctuary.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grocer X: Violence in the produce department

Posted By on Sun, Jul 13, 2014 at 8:28 AM

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The next time you find yourself in your favorite produce department or farmers market take a moment to revel in the innocence. Look at all the shelves and tables stacked neatly with bright-colored citruses and aromatic soft-fruits, or the wetted vegetables set glistening in front of mirrors and flowering from the wall racks. It’s a serene landscape of staple culinary ingredients, offering visions of a healthier lifestyle with the richest colors Mother Nature has to offer.

A produce department is a symbol of innocence, but unequipped to handle the barbarous assaults subjected to it day after day, leaving it broken, battered and beaten, all in the name of perfection.

Who would wreak such havoc on this unsuspecting utopia of agricultural wonder you ask? Of course the answer is you — though I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s unintentional.

Think about it: How many tomatoes do you pick up, squeeze, then set back down before finding the one you want? How many ears of corn do you peel and toss aside before choosing the “best” one? How often do you excavate the salad cooler just to find the “freshest” date on a bag of salad? How many times have you left a bag of spinach on top of the fresh spinach, just because you changed your mind?

Based on my experience, I’ll say that nine out of 10 shoppers NEVER end up buying the first apple, head lettuce or bunch of bananas they pick up — it’s like a motor reflex. You pick the first one up, sometimes you’ll take a quick glance, but for whatever reason that first pick is never good enough, ever. Then, it’s just a matter of how many picks you’ll make before you finally decide, and where you'll stash the items you don't want.

Why did you pick them up in the first place? What exactly is the reason why it isn’t worthy of making it into your basket?Is it too much to ask of you to put it back where you found it? Do you even realize you’re doing this?!

What’s left at the end of the shopping day is a derelict mass of rejected first picks, strewn across the shelves and racks where they don't belong, patiently waiting for their last ride on my produce cart to the trashcan. I’m left with the guilt of discarding all the would-be kale apple salads, banana breads and eggplant parmesans, and the ominous task of re-stacking their counterparts to face a similar demise the next day.

What I’m saying is plan your picking: no more of this "don’t pick first pick" nonsense when it comes to your produce. I’m not saying to never inspect your produce — of course you should — I’m just asking that you do so with a less-critical eye. And, for heaven's sake, put things back where they belong. 

Imagine if you were poked and prodded by unfamiliar faces, examined with critical eyes and dropped off in a strange location to await the nightly culling, just because you don’t meet unrealistic beauty standards. Apparently, the whole “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” mantra doesn’t apply when you’re picking produce, but it should.

I doubt you’re eating tomato heels on a regular basis (at least, you shouldn’t be) so the slight discoloring at the stem shouldn’t turn you off, and so what if an outer leaf of lettuce is broken, or dented; chances are the inner leaves are still to your liking. Those cantaloupes that “don’t look too good” to you very well may be the sweetest on the display, and what difference does it make if there’s a scar on the peel of an orange? Do you eat that too?

Unless your daily meals are on the cover of some food magazine, or for some reason none of the filters on Instagram are good enough, there’s no reason for you to be scouring the displays in search of the perfect peach or that quintessential kiwi. You may not notice the damage caused by doing so, but the carnage in the market left in your wake is like that of a conquered village; a battered skeleton of what it used to be.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (
@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

An open letter to you, the consumer

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 7:00 AM

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I am Grocer X.

I am every smiling face and friendly greeting welcoming you to the register at your neighborhood grocery, and I am the disgruntled, tired and tormented soul hiding underneath.

You’ve seen me before, stocking the aisles with your favorite foodstuffs, arranging apples and shucking ears of fresh corn. I’ve even guided you happily through the darkest corners of the condiment aisle in your futile search for mango chutney, mopping floors and looking for “that thing” you bought one time. I’m the one who’s been up since 1 a.m. — seven days in a row — and whose vacation was canceled due to whatever-parent’s-day weekend.

I am the teenager holding a summer job, the middle aged working-class American and the “lifer” closing in on retirement.

I know you, too. You’re one of our “regular” shoppers; chatting it up with all the employees during your daily trips to the store. You’re the extreme coupon-isseur; reviewing your receipts, item by item, making sure all the hours you’ve spent clipping paper savings weren’t in vain. You’re the poor soul sent to the store for an item you’ve never heard of, wandering aimlessly in your search but too proud to ask where it is until the frustration is too much to bear.

Our time spent together during your weekly shopping trips, your in-and-out stops and your daily routines has been civil, consistent, sometimes even a little pleasant, and I expect that will continue. I know I’m difficult to deal with from time to time with my confusing receipts and seemingly foreign pricing language and promotion rules and restrictions. And I’m sorry we stopped carrying your favorite flavored Kool-Aid packets, and that the prices at my store are so much higher than the (insert store name here) down the street.

But I forgive you too, for all the times you’ve told me how beautiful it is outside and “it’s too bad [I] have to work” (I know), for all the items you’ve wedged into any place except where they belong, and for all the times you’ve dropped a packet of blueberries on the floor and didn’t tell anyone about it.

Let’s put all of that behind us.

We HAVE to spend time together so why not make that time a little less frustrating, for all our sakes?

I come to you now not to attack or belittle you, or to beg you to make my job a little easier, but because I believe we can find common ground.

I believe we can live in a world where grocers can understand the buyers’ need to purchase five gallons of milk — to get two free — and that there may be a time when customers realize why all the clerks are unhappy during the holidays (it’s because we’re working every holiday).

In the coming posts, I’ll bring you insights from my years of experience working in the depths of the grocery aisles. I’ll walk you through your holiday and special event shopping trips, ease the suffering of those dreaded visits to the customer service counter, and help you overcome your fear of buying the ugliest of cantaloupe and pineapple (they’re the sweetest).

I am not a wholesaler. I’m not selling you clothing, toys, or electronics. I am the middleman between you and one of your most vital necessities: your groceries. Let me guide you through the aisles and help you help me, help us.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The big reveal: The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to clemley@csindy.com.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Local businesses thrived on Small Business Saturday

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Sparrow Hawk Cookware shows some love
  • Sparrow Hawk Cookware shows some love
For all you supporters of Small Business Saturday, your purchases did not go unnoticed. If you sought out an alternative to the Black Friday madness, you helped contribute to the $5.7 billion spent on the fourth annual Small Business Saturday. 

Local businesses like Sparrow Hawk Cookware gave a shout out on their Facebook page to all those who came out for the cause. All across the nation, this day has helped to "support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods," according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). 

With consumer awareness at 71 percent this year, a four percent jump from last year, businesses across the national saw a boost in both consumer traffic and sales, according to the 2013 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey. 

"We are very pleased that so many Americans sought to give back by shopping small this Small Business Saturday. We hope that support of small firms, retailers, restaurants and other independent businesses continues throughout the holiday season and all year round," says NFIB CEO Dan Danner in a press release. "Continued support of this vital sector is one important way to ensure our economy fully recovers and a healthy private sector is restored.”

So, to all those who spread the word via social media and came out to support local businesses such as Sparrow Hawk, among many others, the huge turnout shows that this small day is getting bigger each year. 
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Beyond the price tag: Black Friday and fair-trade gifts

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 1:32 PM

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As someone with no pressing desire to take on the chaos, crowds and pure insanity of Black Friday, I can't say I will have the pleasure of hiding away this year, as a new employee of the riveting realm of retail.

I am about to enter into the world of sleep-deprived, caffeinated and on-a-mission moms armed with nothing other than the pure blood-boiling drive to check all 30-plus items off their shopping list.

Forced into this world, I will be a part of the annual event that brings out the dedicated, albeit slightly crazy, bargain shoppers. Stores, including the one I work for, are opening as early as the night before to jack up the sales.

But with all the craziness that this pinnacle of shopping days brings, I can't help but think about the growing consumerism that is occurring in our country, land of the largest consumers in the world. With an estimated 225,000,000 shoppers spending $55.77 billion in one day, this day sheds light on the careless commercialism that plagues society.

But, with the rise of businesses promoting fair trade, sustainable and local products, it is encouraging to see a paradigm shift taking place. Take Yobel Market, located in downtown Colorado Springs, a place for the "conscientious" consumer to shop unique, handcrafted gifts from around the world that are all fairly traded and sustainably created. As a volunteer-run, community-based organization that travels worldwide to empower impoverished and exploited groups of people, they help to foster sustainable production processes. 

Yobel Market will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Black Friday, with discounts on these "fairly made goods" ranging from 20%-50% off. What's even cooler is all their handcrafted goods come with a backstory of who and where it was made as a brief peek into the face of the maker.

And they're just one instance of a local company seeking to offer something other than cheap goods at a price of meager wages and subpar working conditions.  

So, this Black Friday, whether you're interested in saving a couple of bucks or finding the perfect holiday gift, I encourage you to look for alternative ways to do so that supports fair trade, sustainable practices. And, in doing so, you'll find a safe haven for everybody.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Five things your mother would never expect for Mother's Day

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 4:47 PM

There's all the obvious stuff, like flowers, cards and chocolatey goodness, but those things lack imagination. They're so overdone that we felt the need to depart from the paved and predictable Mom-appreciation road. Dear friends, please excuse the self-promotion and consider these humble suggestions a list less-traveled from our Garden of the Goods team.

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1. A gift certificate to a pawn shop. Right? She'd never see it coming, and nothing says I LOVE YOU MOM! like NASCAR memorabilia and decorative knives! 

2. A zip line tour of Manitou Springs or a hot air balloon ride. This one is for moms who think adventure is driving to the mall alone. Is your mom terrified of heights? Then, yep — this is the perfect present for her.

3. A good shellacking. Fooled ya! We're talking nails here. It's springtime, and if your mom wants to wear sandals, her toes might need a coat of paint. But if you're more concerned about the state of her car, then proceed to #4. 

4. Wheel alignment. You know how you borrowed your mom's car that one time and curb-checked it at speed you now regret? Instead of confessing, you can make it right by giving her the gift of more efficient driving. Ta-da... You're a star!

5. Meat. Yes, vegetables are nice. But you know what's better? Bison, beef, lamb, pork and chicken! If you're feeling extra thoughtful, you might also suggest that your mom make you some Pappardelle's Pasta as a comfy noodle-bed for all that protein.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fungus among us

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 1:48 PM

What a great way to start out the day.

I was sifting through my inbox, the usual clutter of press releases, social media alerts (re-tweets, follows, etc.) and business mail (nothing personal ever, I swear ... really).

And then my eyes came across it: "Laser Toenail Fungus Removal for Two Toes."

Regardless if $99, down from $350, is a good deal, I honestly just don't care to ponder fungus first thing in the morning — nor its removal by lasers (whatever that smells like) — nor somebody's foot with two new clean toes standing in stark contrast to three Incredible Hulk rejects.

My first thought, of course, was "Ick!"

My second thought, a few seconds later, was "Ick! Still not over it."

But my third thought was "This doesn't sound like LivingSocial, the supposedly discerning company I co-profiled here back in June 2011.

The company whose representative said, "We know what's hot, exciting and what the trends are."

("Welcome to Colorado Springs — home of General Palmer's legacy, the military, churches, an increasing quantity of pho eateries and, who could forget, fungal toes.")

But in fairness, that same representative did say, "For us it's not about driving a coupon, it's about creating an experience."

My point to this meandering story is that here, today, fungus-in-mind, I'm officially calling bullshit.

I'm fine with all the restaurant discounts and event the excess of massage and spa treatment offerings — I'll give them their "experience" points on those.

But even looking again at today's email blast, tell me exactly what thrill you'd get from an auto glass replacement coupon:

I suppose the pet grooming is an experience for your dog, whether they like it or not.
  • I suppose the pet grooming is an "experience" for your dog, whether they like it or not.

In continued fairness, I will say that Groupon's not batting much better, particularly as it relates to lasers and your grooming habits:

I never thought Id read the word disables associated with hair growth ... fun.
  • I never thought I'd read the word "disables" associated with hair growth ... fun.

I guess I've learned a handful of things through this exercise. In summation:

1) I'm not fond of talking fungus first-thing in the morning.

2) It's about time to disable my email updates from these coupon slingers (which I only turned on as research for that earlier story — for reals).

3) I'm not buying for one minute the notion that our local reps are really sifting through the mass crap clutter to find us hidden gems of experiential greatness.

4) Lasers are multifunctional and awesome.

5) If fungus is indeed trending, may I forever stay out of fashion.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

’Tis the season for affordable art

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 7:26 PM

From the listings desk: It's the time of year for gift-y art shows, a chance for you to not only shop local and all that jazz, but to procure yourself someone you love a piece of art that's more affordable than usual. Here's a round-up of some local small works/holiday art shows. If you know of another not mentioned here, please let us know in the comments or via e-mail to listings@csindy.com.

Bemis School of Art, 818 Pelham Place, 475-2444, csfineartscenter.org. Annual Teacher's Art Sale, a collection of ceramics, paintings, jewelry and more. Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.

Business of Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1861, thebac.org. Art for a New Start, a show of artwork donated for families who lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire. Selections are on a first-come, first-served basis. Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. Opening reception for families and donors, Fri., Nov. 30, 6-9 p.m. Handmade Holiday, a show and sale of hand-crafted artwork and crafts from locals, with live music, warm beverages and cookies and other holiday entertainment. Saturdays, Sundays. through Dec. 25. BAC Annual Holiday Show, a showcase of the BAC's studio artists, offering up works in ceramics, painting, mixed media, print work and more. Dec. 7 through Jan. 19. Opening reception, Fri., Dec. 7, 6 p.m.

Striker Bowl by Arlyss Gross
  • From Sangre, "Striker Bowl" by Arlyss Gross

Commonwheel Artists Co-op, 102 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1008, commonwheel.com. Commonwheel Artists Co-op Annual Holiday Market, a show and sale of gift-able artwork by over 35 Colorado artists. Through Jan 6.

Cottonwood on Tejon, 214½ N. Tejon St., cottonwoodgallery.wordpress.com. Holiday Boutique, an art show and sale, featuring pieces from Colorado artists, all under $100.

Fare Bella Studio and Gallery, Tracy Miller Fine Art.
  • From Fare Bella Studio and Gallery and Tracy Miller Fine Art.

Cup and Bowl Gallery, 116 Midway Ave., Pueblo, 719/404-3469, cupandbowl.org. A Cup & Bowl Christmas, an exhibition of work from Linda Cates, Kuky Harrington, Maria Hughes and Laura Lester. Opening reception, Fri., Dec. 7 , 5 p.m.

Fare Bella Studio and Gallery, 16 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, 720/226-4315. 100 for $100, a holiday art show featuring original works by Coni Grant, Patti Filler, Laura Reilly and others. Also held in Tracy Miller Fine Art. Nov. 30 to Dec. 31. Opening reception, Fri., Nov. 30, 6 p.m.

Gallery 113, 113 N. Tejon St., 634-5299, gallery-113.com. Art Gift Show, as the name implies, handmade items ranging from scarves and jewelry to photographs, stone arts and prints. Nov. 28 through Dec. 25. Opening reception, Fri., Dec. 7, 5 p.m.

Kreuser Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave., 630-6347, abigailkreusergallery.com. Holiday Art Market, a sale featuring art work from local artists like Carole Reece, Marie David, Dana Long, Tim Davis, Randall Barbera, Abigail Kreuser and others. Through Nov. 30.

Mardosz Fine Art Gallery, 109 S. Corona St., mardoszfineart.com. Miniatures Show, a series of small paintings by Chuck Mardosz, Eric Michaels, Richard Dahlquist and Dean Mabe. Through Dec. 31.

Marmalade at Smokebrush, 219 W. Colorado Ave., #210, 444-1012, smokebrush.org. CHRISZAIHAMANKUS, a seasonal group art show with works by Don Goede, Kat and Bob Tudor, Jeff Kallaus, Justin Kovach and others. Opening reception, with a short play by Ethan Engel and Jennifer Mulson, music by the New Depressionists and Crystal & the Curious, and more. Fri., Dec. 7, 6 p.m.

Modbo, 17C E. Bijou St., 633-4240, themodbo.wordpress.com. Fifth Annual Small Works Show, a show and sale of nearly 300 works of art, all under 24 inches in each dimension, and hung salon-style in the galleries. Also held in S.P.Q.R. Opening reception, Fri., Dec. 7, 5:30 p.m. to midnight.

Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, 210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo, 719/295-7200, sdc-arts.org. Own Your Own Art Show & Sale, Sangre's annual art bonanza, with walls filled top to bottom with reasonably priced artwork for the holidays. Through Dec. 29.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

UPDATE: From the bargain hunter's bag: It's back!

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 9:12 AM

While trying to find a parking spot for a trip to Republic of Paws on Saturday, I accidentally found myself driving by the "Super Secret Saver Sale" at 2409 W. Cucharras St. and saw that the door was wide open. Turns out the sale is actually running Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Shopping for a bargain, especially shoes

And don't be alarmed when you drive up and see the windows covered in brown paper. That's been common to each of the former sales. Just head on in and start shopping. There's plenty to be found inside. (But bring your cash or checkbooks. They're not accepting credit cards.)

——-ORIGINAL POST: 2012-08-16 16:29:50——-

I do love the unofficial shopping beat I have here at the Indy, primarily because I get to share news like that which came in to me via a phone call this morning.

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The "Eighth Street sale," AKA "Girls Just Want to Have Fun Sale," AKA the "Crazy Lady Sale," has opened its doors once again, this time as the "Super Secret Saver Sale."

The doing of local estate sale company Rachel T. Wescott & Associates, Inc., this always-massive offering of deeply discounted women's designer clothing, shoes and accessories, is hanging out this year at 2409 W. Cucharras St., in Old Colorado City's former Surplus City building.

It's only open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., starting today and running Tuesdays through Thursdays for an unspecified period of time. So make good use of those lunch hours, ladies, and no fighting over the Jimmy Choos.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

From the bargain-hunter's bag: Yard sale time!

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 5:08 PM

So excited to pick up a flier at Colorado Coffee Merchants for the Venetian Village yard sale, happening this weekend. Next to the Old North End sale, which happened earlier this summer, this is one of the best opportunities to grab some great deals, and get a little sun while doing it.

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On top of that, the new Ivywild Facebook page says that neighborhood, too, will be having a sale this weekend:

From Ivywilder Martin:
The first annual community wide yard sale is coming up soon!
The dates are Friday August 3rd, Saturday August 4th and Sunday August 5th. - 9am to 4pm.

We are trying to encourage all neighbors to participate. Please pass the word around. This is just like having a normal yard sale at your house, however we are trying to get everyone in the neighborhood to do it on the same weekend. Hoping to create some synergy, Ivywild-style!

And specifically for dancers, the following Saturday, Aug. 11, Ormao Dance Company, 10 S. Spruce St., will host a "Bring & Buy" dancer-specific yard sale. Bring and donate those leotards that don't fit anymore, or those brand-spankin'-new ballet shoes you bought and then took two classes in before stuffing them in the back of your closet (... um ... no, I'm not speaking from experience ... well, OK, maybe I am ...).

Then purchase someone else's worn-once recital costume (Halloween, anyone?), or tap shoes they purchased and wore once before stuffing them in the back of their closet .... It'll also be a great place for all you parents to bring the dance wear your kiddos grow out of every six months, recoup some costs, and inexpensively stock up for next year.

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