Well, obviously I haven't been here in a few, or maybe, several months. At any rate, it's been a while. Friends and colleagues say "How can you call yourself a serious blogger?" It's true--I rarely post, but when I have something to say, I say it. And if you're reading this blog, I hope you will say what you think. To be fair, my full-time gig does not pay me to blog, and I was in the hospital for a month. So that's my excuse this month for not blogging. I did promise I would recognize the best and worst neighborhood businesses in upcoming blogs. Finally, I have a few to talk about. Here they are.
I begin with the day I got fed up with Whole "Paycheck" Foods (no pun intended) and their picked-over assortment of bakery items that always have next day or same day expiration dates. With nothing to lose, I decided to search closer to home. I found a gem in Tilda's Bake Shop, that, according to my neighbors, "has been here forever." My introduction to this Rocky Point landmark came by accident one Saturday when Whole Foods was out of Italian bread. I didn't feel like waiting half an hour for their next scheduled batch, so I headed east. Something told me to slow down as I approached the clock on 25a. There was Tilda's. Once inside, I knew I would never have to go to Whole Foods' bakery again. The assortment of pastries, muffins, pies, cakes, cookies and other delicious sweets had all the gourmet quality and creativity of anything I'd ever seen on the shelves at Whole Foods. More importantly, everything I've bought at Tilda's has been consistently fresh and about half the price of what I have to pay for a comparable item at Whole Foods. Even when there's a line at Tilda's, the customer service is first rate and the smells are divine. You don't mind waiting.
Although Waldbaum's is not exactly a neighborhood grocery, it makes the grade for quality and affordability. The store in Rocky Point easily outshines Whole Foods in the produce department and some other areas. The Miller Place Stop 'n Shop also beats Whole Foods in its selection of wild caught fish and seafood, although its pre-packaged fruit and juice selection is less impressive than Waldbaum's. Formerly, I had also shopped at Whole Foods for its ice tea selection, including the Tazo and Honest Tea brands, particularly the plain green and black teas, which I could not find anywhere else. Now, I see that Stop 'n Shop actually has many of the Honest Tea Brands, whereas Whole Foods seems consistently out of stock. When I inquired about their vanishing tea supply, I was told by a Whole Foods customer service person that there was no one available from the "grocery" department, but someone would call me back tomorrow to discuss the problem. It's been more than a week since that visit, and no one has called. By contrast, when I inquired about an item that I couldn't find at Stop 'n Shop, I was referred to and able to speak with a manager immediately.
If you have a home improvement or repair project and you don't know what you're looking for, you probably won't find it at Home Depot or Lowe's. Why? Because most of the people who work there don't know what you need either, and won't take the time to ask you the right questions in order to figure out what you need. Fortunately, the old fashioned hardware store that had knowledgeable staff committed to solving home repair problems is alive and well at Costello's Ace Hardware Store. I've visited the store several times since I moved to the area, and without exception, I receive a friendly greeting when I enter the store. If I don't ask, a staff member asks if I need help and then leaves me alone if i say "No". If I ask for help, there is always someone who can not only help me find what I don't know I'm looking for, but give me options for solving the problem I came in with, so I am not stuck with a product that may be too expensive for my budget or more than what I need to solve the problem.
When I go into a CVS or Duane Reade or Rite Aid, the first thing I notice is that there are as many toys and candy, snack food and "seasonal" items as there are medicines or anything that would be considered health or wellness or pharmacy related.
This means there are less drugstore items overall and less of a selection for the traditional drugstore items that are sold. Unlike the chains, the independents usually sell medicines and maybe a few other items like toiletries and greeting cards; but they are not trying to be a grocery/convenience/candy/pharmacy/bath/gift shop in one. They have a better selection of pharmacy items, including vitamins; and if you're looking for an OTC drug, you can usually find it without touring the entire store. Shoreham Drug is the quintessential neighborhood independent pharmacy, It offers convenient and extensive hours that are competitive with the chain pharmacies; and the owners/pharmacists take the extra steps to find the right medication and don't just direct you to the first solution that comes to mind. The combination of customer service and quality is a powerful motivator to go back to these stores. Tilda's, Costello's and Shoreham Drug. These neighborhood stores are a model for our local economy. I'm very glad they're here.