WINCO 

1222 NE 102nd, 252-3353

You can tell a lot about a person about how he shops for groceries. A yuppie friend of mine, for example, only buys cereal, Diet Coke, and exotic cheese. Even for this paltry pantry, she just must shop at Nature's, paying so much for a single banana you'd think a Sherpa would be included to eat it for her. Or Food Front: Between organic hydroploanically-grown cruelty-free tomatoes and aisles of gingko is there any wonder whether shoppers there cried the day Jerry Garcia died?

Me, I shop at WinCo, a no-nonsense food warehouse sprawling on the Northeast fringes of town. If other stores bring their wares by semi-truck, WinCo employs the same air cargo planes that drop food supplies to struggling nations in Africa. Bins, bulk and bargains. Where else can a person buy Honey Nut Cheerios for $1.19 a pound? Hell, where else does one scoop his breakfast into a clear plastic produce bag, just eight bins down from the discount dog biscuits?

There are, in fact, two types of people that shop at WinCo. The first group bring meticulously laid-out shopping lists and feverishly calculate to the penny how much peanut butter they can buy. But then, there is the other subculture of shoppers that scamper like giddy children on an Easter egg hunt. Last Sunday, I watched a spiky-haired Sid-and-Nancy couple weave through the aisles, first chasing down Betty Crocker brownie mix for mere dimes a box and then snagging a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream ($1.99 versus $3-plus at Fred Meyer). With a crooked grin, the young punk looked as if he has just conquered the corporate machinery. Sure, there are boxes of mac-n-cheese for 29¢ and King Kong-sized jars of peanut butter, but make no mistake about it, done right, WinCo feels like you're cheating the man.

The tradeoff is blatant: No cedar-lined cabinets or soothing whale calls on the PA like Nature's. Just the food; get in, get out. Shoppers bag their own groceries. Only cash or, rarely, with umpteen forms of ID, a check. But, at $45 for three Joy of Cooking full spread dinners, a week of breakfasts and a 6-pack of Black Butte, who needs comfort?

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