That Grocery Mood and the Starbucks/Safeway Hybrid

I can't really file this under Design in a Small Town because I am sure it is happening everywhere.

My local Safeway, which seemingly just opened in its present location a few years ago, has undergone some renovation. The whole notion of renovation to a store that was new to begin with is utterly confounding to me.

The newspapers (yes, apparently this merits coverage) report that Safeway is now better suited to be a 'lifestyle' store. I have searched for some meaning in that and I have to call a designer/marketing bluff and say this is nonsense. I am sure I will royally anger other designers by this proclamation but the fact is this is appears to be a frivolous venture meant simply to provide Safeway with some differentiation when, inevitably, the Walmart superstore goes in across the street. Safeway = equals lifestyle (read 'high class') and Walmart = equals convenience and economy (read 'low class'). The brilliant part of this is that by claiming the lifestyle status, Safeway gives itself justification for its prices. Heck, they might even want to set the prices higher for allowing us to experience their store.

It is funny how 'lifestyle' is expressed. It is as though the Starbucks, once relegated to an awkward corner of the store, has now exploded, covering the rest of the store in a creamy hazel nut mocha wash. But this doesn't produce lifestyle. I still buy the same crap that I did before. I am not viewing myself any differently when I shop there. It is still the same old Safeway just darker, I suppose.

The store is dark. Apparently, my lifestyle is supposed to be vision impaired. Dim lights, faux cherry fixtures. In fact, it is so dark my wife and I joked that the next time we visit they are going to have to hand out flashlights. The fixtures are interesting, actually, because the cherry wood makes the bread aisle as though it were some sort of library reading room.

In fact, the whole store has that feel. It is an exclusive men's club. Ironically, when the store takes this affectation, the in-store Starbucks still seems awkward. It has grown in the current redesign and now, strangely, includes a fireplace. I am not sure anymore how exactly I am to use the store. Do I hang out by the fireplace with my skinny half-caff latte then, when the grocery mood hits me, wander the store in search of items meant to supplement my social standing? Or do I buy my crap but then, to reaffirm that I am more elevated that my Tide and Bounty suggest, I can put my feet up by the fire and count my commercial blessings?

I guess one good thing about the dim lights could be that the store looks cleaner than it really is. You know the Walmart will be bright enough to reveal the everyday, working class grime.

But beyond the differentiation one should consider the strangeness of this arrangement. Our grocery spaces, it seems now have to be injected with mood and atmosphere. Yet, our public structures (libraries in particular) which should have that same sort of quietness and interiority are all about transit, openness, and light. The university libraries, for instance, are about windows and wide, communal spaces.

Needless to say, we can see that our focus is to be trained in the commercial site and the public place is quite the opposite. Public spaces, for the most part, represent prestige and scale yet are designed to move you through. Not to linger and contemplate but to move on to other spaces.

Perhaps to the comfort of a lifestyle space.
gregory turner-rahman