This is as good a time as any to discuss the supermarket situation in Oswego.
When I last foodblogged, we had three supermarkets in town (Tops, P&C, and Price Chopper), as well as a smaller grocery store (Mike's Big M), and Ontario Orchards outside of town. And during my last blog, it was officially announced
that Tops would be pulling out of CNY, and that Price Chopper would be moving into the Tops store. Their reasoning was that the new store is bigger, and had better parking. Sure enough, that November, they closed the old store at 6 PM one night, and reopened in the new location the next morning.
We are not impressed. The new Price Chopper store may be bigger, but the aisles are still so narrow it's hard to get two carts to pass. They may have more shelf space, but it's just more of the same old same old. The produce department still has the same suppliers as always, andd they still run out of cilantro and flat-leaf parsley regularly. The meat counter is staffed with cooperative people, but most of their stuff now comes pre-cut, and they seem to do less of their own butchering. The fish counter reeks of the chlorine bleach they use to clean, and I won't buy fish from them because it tastes like chlorine bleach. The pharmacy got axed in the changeover. Yet, we continue to shop there because it's the best we have.
The new location is also much less convenient, not just for me but for a lot of people. The old store was pretty much right downtown. It was a walk away from much of the senior housing. The new store is out east of town, a mile and a half from the old store. It's now in a location that almost nobody can walk to. If you don't drive, your only options are to ride the bus (if you're near a stop), hire a taxi, or get a ride.
Our other remaining supermarket, P&C, is generally more expensive for everything. It's in the shopping center next door to the Price Chopper shopping center. We'll go there only rarely, usually when Price Chopper's run out of cilantro.
Our next-door neighbor, who does some catering, likes the meat from Big M, the smaller grocery store. Another friend says that the people there steered one of her neighbors to exactly the right cut of beef for his stew recipe. But everyone in town agrees that the produce is horrendous. Nonetheless, Big M is now the only place to get groceries close to downtown, and it's the only grocery store on the west side of the river in Oswego.
Ontario Orchards does a nice job with produce. They also have some frozen meat (which we haven't tried), birdseed and pet supplies (but nothing our boys can have), a few baked goods (ehhh, I make better), and other grocery odds and ends. But they aren't open year-round. Once apple season ends, they'll scale back their hours pretty dramatically. After Christmas, they'll only be open on weekends until planting season starts up in March. They're not within a walk of anything and they're five miles from the nearest bus stop, but they're also on the west side of the river.
Why the big deal about east and west sides of the river? Because Oswego, like many river towns, has bridges. Here's a link
to a Google map of our area; look at the satellite photo for the full story. The two parallel bridges are the two road bridges; the one to the north is the one in the photo below. We also have an old railroad bridge that's been turned into a pedestrian bridge; this is the one at an angle across the river.
This isn't a great picture, but it lets you see at least the shadow of the Bridge Street bridge, which is the more-used of the two in town. (For one thing, Bridge Street is NY-104, which you can take east to I-81 and beyond, or west to Buffalo and the Lewiston-Queenston bridge. The Utica Street bridge is not a state route, and Utica Street doesn't go through to anywhere.) The Bridge Street bridge is now 40 years old, and the engineers say that the cracks showing up in the sidewalk mean that there are structural issues with the bridge. So, starting next March, the bridge will be removed and completely replaced from the ground up. The bridge is scheduled to be closed for 8 months. The entire area is shuddering with fear of what's going to happen with the traffic.
There are elementary schools and fire stations on both sides of the river. But the hospital, junior high, high school, and university are all on the west side. The predictions for traffic flow say that during peak periods, there could be half-hour delays to get across the remaining bridge on Utica Street. The school district is wondering whether the school buses will be able to finish their routes for the high school and junior high in time to start the routes for the elementary schools. The city is discussing options for dealing with pedestrians—one idea I've heard is a shuttle bus, to take people from one side of the bridge to the other. (While I'm glad they're considering such options, it's only an extra three blocks of walking to use the pedestrian bridge instead. If the traffic issues are as bad as they're prognosticating, it'll take far less time to go around than it would to take a shuttle bus. The people who really will need help are those with mobility issues, and those are the people who are less likely to walk anyway.)
We live on the west side of town, very close to the university. And for us, the big deal is that both supermarkets are on the east side, as is the nearest transfer station for rubbish and recyclables. Getting to the Big M won't be fun by car or bicycle, because they're right across the street from the Utica Street Bridge. (On the satellite photo, it's the longish building with a cupola, just to the right of the green arrow.) And Ontario Orchards is not really a viable option for everyday shopping because of the goods they stock and don't stock.
What to do?
We've already started to explore our options. We've discovered another of the county's transfer stations, in Hannibal. We can get to it on back roads, so we won't need to go near the bridge snarls. We've already checked it out, so we know the traffic patterns there. And we've learned that it's an easy trip from the Hannibal transfer station to the Price Chopper store in Fulton (the next town south), as long as you don't mind driving around with your garbage containers in your car. (We use a rectangular Rubbermaid bin that can hold a 55-gallon plastic liner. When the bin is full, we pull the bag up. When the bag's nearly full, it's time to go to the transfer station.)
But the Fulton Price Chopper store has all the same failings of the Oswego Price Chopper. (The Fulton store still has a pharmacy, though.) It, too, was a Tops before the pullout. And while it's nice to know that we can get to a full-service supermarket without having to deal with a bridge nightmare, it's depressing to know that we're driving 20 minutes for something mediocre. Fortunately, there's something else we can do.
Once you've driven from Oswego to Fulton, you're halfway to the nearest Wegman's. From Fulton, the rest of the way there is on highway except for the very last bit. And even though this is a smaller and older Wegman's without all the bells and whistles of their newer, bigger, better stores, it's still a Wegman's, with beautiful produce, an unstinky fish counter, and employees who seem happy to talk with you and help you get what you want. It might be a bit more expensive than Price Chopper, but I'm willing to pay a bit of a premium for a more pleasant shopping experience. I foresee that we'll be making more frequent trips to this Wegman's. We'll get what we can at Ontario Orchards, we'll plan our meals better than we do currently, we'll make a point of thinking ahead if we'll need to defrost something from the freezer, and we'll make Wegman's runs when we need to. I have the luxury of being able to go in the middle of a weekday when it's less crowded, but Casey and I have always gone food shopping together because we both cook, we both enjoy the shopping process, and it's more fun to shop together.
The bridge closure will certainly present a challenge, but one that will force us to think carefully about how we shop and therefore how we eat. We're fortunate that we are both good cooks. I don't know how badly it will hurt other people, especially the students who live off-campus and those less mobile.
MelissaHedited to fix a minor typographical problem that nobody but me would probably notice anyway
Edited by MelissaH, 15 September 2007 - 10:32 AM.