Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Cathedral of Aldi

A few weeks ago we got a very inexpensive juicer at Kohl's. We didn't pay much for it, but we've fallen in love with morning smoothies made with fresh carrot juice. In fact, carrot juice is the reason we went juicer shopping in the first place. A quart of it costs nearly $6. If you juice it yourself it costs about $1.49. At that rate, our little juicer investment will pay for itself in about three months.

And it was the hunt for inexpensive carrots that first led me to Aldi. {Aldi is a chain of bargain basement grocery stores that stretch from Kansas eastward. They carry "off brands" at very low prices. I used to be far too snooty a grocery shopper to give Aldi the time of day. But a girl will do what a girl has to do for fresh carrot juice!}

So, I've been shopping there for the last three weeks but it was while I was there this past Saturday that I realized that going to Aldi is a little bit like going to church – for those who won't give church the time of day.

First off, going into this store is not for the faint of heart – or for the uninitiated for that matter. Just like going to Catholic Mass or a good old fashioned baptism at a Baptist church, Aldi has some rituals that can be intimidating to a visitor on a weekend morning, beginning with making sure you have a quarter with you if you want to shop with a cart. There are no signs to tell you this. You are left to figure out for yourself that the only way to unlock your cart from all the others is to insert your quarter and pull. The quarter dangles there, locked in it's own little purgatory as you shop. It taunts you with it's nearness, but the only way to get your quarter back is to take your cart back to the line up when you are done buying your food and lock it back in place. When the lock clicks, your quarter pops back out.

The store has only four aisles and like most houses of worship on a Sunday morning, it seems as though everyone knows what's going on except you. The off brand wines are seated next to the gum, that is wedged near the salad dressing. The breakfast cereal is cozied up with the canned beans who have become best friends with the cat treats and taco seasoning. Everything is all mixey-mingley in Aldi and everyone seems to be alright with that. {ok. maybe i'm just wishing there were churches like this?}

Like only a precious few faith communities I've ever experienced, grace abounds at Aldi. If you forget your quarter no one yells at you. They don't laugh at you and make you feel bad for being so dumb or sinful. No one stares or whispers. And, *gasp* they still let you shop there. You simply ask the cashier for one and she lends it to you, without a second thought. And that grace soon spills over to the other shoppers in the store. I have yet to arrive and find the first cart in line without a quarter already there, that some other shopper left for the next patron to find. I kind of doubt that there is a lot of quarter thievery going on at Aldi. It seems like people kind of respect this quiet, pay-it-forward kindness.

After you pay for your groceries you notice the other little Aldi quirk. There are no bags. No plastic, no paper, no nothing. If you haven't brought your own you can wander the store looking for empty boxes on the shelves. If you strike out there, you are kind of out of luck. And perhaps this is what I like most about Aldi – shopping there demands mindfulness. It asks you to pay attention and plan what you are doing. If you don't have bags you must think about how you will transport your purchases to your car. If you remember to bring your reusable bags you feel good and virtuous about your environmental impact and your choices for food.

Aldi asks you to take responsibility for your cart and for your money and for your time.

Those might be the best reasons for going to church too. I don't go because I have nothing else to do. I don't go because all the right people might be watching. I go because I'm hungry. Because it offers a path of responsibility and choice that makes a difference in the world.

Now if only you got your offering back when your car drove off the lot. . . {kidding, kidding}


Frank Wilson said...

This is just too good . . . way too good. Never been but I'm bound. Will they make me check my camera at the gate?

Tanya said...

I'm pretty sure they won't! And, as an added bonus, every Saturday that I've been there features the fastest check out woman/scanner I've ever seen in my life! She's AMAZING! =)