Communist Russia, milk, bread and Meijer are no match for family bonds

Today, for the first time in my life, I stepped inside a Meijer.

This is a fairly significant deal since, for well over a decade, I have refused to enter the megastore. I have had my reasons, which might not have been “good” or “sensible,” but they were my reasons, which were good enough for me.

So why had I never entered a Meijer?

Two words: Jason Newkirk.

I worked with Newkirk in the mid-to-late-1990s at a shipping warehouse in Lexington, and the two of us quickly became friends. We’d often go to lunch at Uncle Bud’s Catfish and Such (and although I can’t fully remember if the “and Such” was part of the official name, I think we can all agree it suits Uncle Bud’s), and whenever we’d pass the then-barren land at what is now Hamburg Pavilion, Newkirk would tell me about the glories of a future store that had people waiting in line for hours for basic necessities.

The scene he presented sounded less like a store I’d want to shop at and more like a the images of bread lines in Communist Russia, circa 1985 (note: I’m fairly certain the country wasn’t listed as “Communist Russia” according to experts such as Rand and/or McNally, but that’s how every pro wrestling announcer referred to the area, and to me, at least then, Vince McMahon > Magellan).

“When the store first opens, there’ll be people waiting 2-3 hours to checkout, but it’s worth it because it’s milk for a quarter, bread for a dime,” Newkirk would tell me every time we passed the area. Every. Time. And we passed it often, as we were gluttons and enjoyed catfish (and such).

(I pause for a moment to recount a story about Uncle Bud’s that Cory Graham will force me to tell: The restaurant, located off Richmond Road near Man O’ War, featured options for all-you-can-eat fried chicken ($9.99), all-you-can-eat catfish ($10.99) and all-you-can-eat catfish/chicken combo ($10.99). I looked at the menu and while gorging on a combination of catfish AND chicken seemed a bit much, the value was too good to pass up, prompting me to remark, “So what they’re saying is, if you even remotely like chicken …” To this day, Mr. Graham thinks it’s my finest moment.)

At that time, Newkirk worked a second job at a rival grocery chain, making him privy to some of the juicy gossip of the business (he was like the TMZ of IGA). Newkirk’s store managers were nervous because whenever Meijer opens in a new area, he told me, they drastically lower prices to get people into the store. What areas did they really highlight? Why, milk (for a quarter) and bread (for a dime).

It got to the point that I wanted to find creative and new ways to avoid the Hamburg area, knowing that by getting anywhere in the proximity subjected me to hearing about bread, milk, quarters and dimes. The phrase “milk for a quarter, bread for a dime,” got so connected with not only Meijer stores but the entire Hamburg shopping area, that I still, about 15 years later, have a Pavolvian response whenever I pass it.

And, sure enough, Newkirk was right.

When the Meijer superstore first opened its superdoors, the lines were unspeakably long, prompting TV crews to come out and document this grand happening, these bargains so great, so overwhelming that the people of Capitalist America willingly looked like Communist Russia.

So I took a stand. I vowed never to enter Meijer, under any circumstances. It’s worth noting that this has absolutely nothing to with their prices or policies or even with the store itself. Instead, it was just a reaction to my irritation to Newkirk’s Meijer mantra, “milk for a quarter, bread for a dime.” I decided I hated Meijer, and I stuck to my guns.

I stayed strong in my anti-milk/bread stance, even when friends (the aforementioned Cory Graham) would ask me to tag along as he made drives to Lexington for pre-Thanksgiving meal shopping trips for his family. I rode with him but stubbornly (yes, I’m self-aware enough to realize it was stubborn) waited in the car while he lugged out massive quantities of a certain kind of green bean and (I think) a gigantic vat of mayonnaise. He swore at me, at Newkirk, at milk and at bread.

The green beans, though, got a pass.

So why, after all these years, have I broken down and gone into this land of savings (and irrational frustration)?

My sister needed me to do so.

On Wednesday, she called to ask if I could pick up something she’d ordered from Meijer and had shipped to the store, thus eliminating shipping costs (my family loves nothing like a value, which should further make you realize just how much I hated hearing “milk for a quarter, bread for a dime”). She didn’t think she would be in Lexington as she had planned, so since I work in the city and would be visiting Powell County (her home area) this weekend, she, reasonably, asked if I would be able to pick it up for her.

Of course, I refused.

I am, after all, a man of principles, skewed though they might be.

I felt bad after telling her no, though, and I made up my mind that today would be the day that Kevin Faces His Ridiculous Problem with Meijer, so I told my sister I’d be glad to get the item. Perhaps this will eventually pay off with special rewards in heaven, although I’ll settle for just having this one yoke of quirkiness (OK, again, stubbornness) removed from me.

It was a quick and easy trip, in and out in no time. The store was fine. The lines weren’t long. Milk and bread were normally priced (to be fair, I had hoped they would still be at quarter/dime prices; it would have been like seeing Bigfoot).

I should celebrate. I wish Uncle Bud’s was still open because I remotely like chicken.

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