Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Corner Store: an appreciation

I was with my friend Ted once and we decided, not wholly out of character, that the proceedings would go more smoothly with a bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey. There was a store about a block from his place, but we passed that one and kept going. I asked him what was up. He said, "Oh, I can't go there for this one. I've already bought three bottles there this week."

It's true, right? Your corner store guy knows more about you than your boss or your best friend or your S.O. He (and I'm not trying to be sexist, but it usually is a he, and, if you live in SF, there's an excellent chance he's a Middle Eastern he) knows what kind of booze you like and how often, what your preferred snacking items are, whether or not you smoke and what brand and how much, and maybe what kind of sandwiches you like, if it's a market that makes sandwiches.

I had a female friend tell me once that her corner store guy could probably chart her menstrual cycle based on what she bought. Red wine and ice cream meant yep, it's getting close.

ANYWAY, what made me start thinking about this is that today, October 15, is the anniversary of the day I moved to San Francisco. Today's 19 years, yay. Wow, that sounds like a long time. My first place was in North Beach, on Union Street, and that afternoon I went to Speedy's for the first time. Speedy's was (sadly, was, because it closed a while back) a typically quirky/wonderful SF corner store, with totally friendly guys that worked there, an awesome deli, and a great beer selection. They did deliveries for longtime customers. In a Rolls-Royce. Fucking awesome. Here's a great article about Speedy's and its sad demise.

One of the great things about SF that you kind of take for granted but which is a total gift from heaven is the corner store. Instead of being blanketed with a sea of uniform 7-Elevens that all have the exact same stock, our corner stores are all quirky and unique in their own way. When I moved back to Telegraph Hill in 2001, my new corner store was the Fog Hill Market, run by an affable Palestinian named Hanna who had an amazing cheese selection and let us run a tab after he got to know us. Try putting a wedge of Camembert on your tab at a Circle K.

The Parkview Market, Frederick and Stanyan, another fine corner store

Not that all corner stores are fun and games - there used to be one on Union and, what - Hyde, maybe? Leavenworth? - that was one of the creepiest places I've ever been. There were stacks of old newspapers everywhere and like one dusty can of soup on the shelf. Lots o' liquor, though. Now that I think about it, it was probably a front for something.

UPDATE: Upon looking at a 1990 calendar, it seems that 10/15/90 was a Monday, and I'm almost positive I arrived on a Sunday, so I guess I've been wrong about the date for lo these many years. Oh well. Just pretend you read this yesterday.


Greg said...

It's funny you write this today, because just today, I was talking to "Mason Powell" about an idea for a new website that would be about nothing but corner stores.

What I like about 'em, esp, out here, is that each one has some unique quality that makes you come back. I used to live up the street from the Parkview, and I used to go there specifically because they had a brand of beer I liked, and had more food items. The Sunny Country Foods up the street was a bit closer, and also had some things Parkview did not. And so on.

I'm thinking of doing maybe a "big mac index" style site, which could compare prices at each, and have a space for what that market does best (ie. cheapest prices on Rainier Ale, best sandwiches, etc).


Rocco said...

you don't remember things too good.