There are things about Valli Produce in Arlington Heights that I really like, but this store is fraught with some of the same perils as the other produce stores I have blogged about. They recently remodeled this location and the sleek new look is a vast improvement. Their prices, selection, and quality are generally quite good, although some items are high compared to Joe Caputo & Sons. For instance, during the same sale period, Rapini was $1.79 a pound at Valli and only .89 cents a pound at Joe Caputo & Sons. My primary complaints relate to the clientele and parking lot, but I have also experienced behavior on the part of workers that borders on downright rude. On my last visit, I found an open cashier and she was chomping on an apple. Instead of putting it down, she made me wait until she had devoured the entire thing. It would be understandable if she was on a break, but she was not and really should have rung up my order instead of making me wait. On a positive note, she did apologize. The week before, we encountered a cashier who was yapping on her cell phone while ringing us up – she never disengaged from the call and was still talking as we left. Needless to say, this slowed things down – maybe there should be a law about distracted cashiering. While these behaviors are a bit irksome, the stockers are completely oblivious to the existence of customers. They will not budge an inch if you are trying to select produce where they are stocking and they barrel their hand trucks through aisles with reckless glee – nearly knocking you over. These things, however, pale in comparison to the customers.
Stanley’s Fruit & Vegetables on Elston and North Avenues in Chicago specializes in spectacular over-the-hill produce. Yet this place is a Mecca of sorts with overflowing crowds of fervent shoppers. The only answer I have to this quandary is that when you live in Chicago, there aren’t an abundance of inexpensive produce stores. Stanley’s certainly has good prices for a city store, with a few exceptions. For example, when every other store was selling butternut squash for 49 cents a pound, Stanley’s was still charging $1.49 a pound. They finally got wise and reduced their price to 69 cents a pound. City dwellers would really salivate over Valli, Joe Caputo & Sons, Fresh Farms, Garden Fresh, and EuroFresh – all of which have far better and often just as inexpensive produce – but alas, Stanley’s has a lock on this geographic demographic. In fairness, I do have to say that all of these suburban stores have their perils as well … in the form of rude shoppers, but at least their fruit and veggies aren’t rotting.
Every Wednesday, I make the trek to visit my daughter in downtown Chicago. I always stop first at Joe Caputo & Sons in Des Plaines to buy her portabello mushrooms, rapini, and a few other veggies. This location is ridiculous in that everything is squeezed into too tight a space and their parking lot is treacherous. Their stores in Palatine and Algonquin are huge, clean, well laid out, and offer up a mind-boggling array of choices. I can understand that they have loyal shoppers in Des Plaines and so don’t want to close this location, but this shopping experience is less than ideal and they should really consider finding a new building. I am usually the youngest patron by 20+ years and end up feeling like I am in the Mr. Bean episode where he gets stuck behind retirees on the staircase while on holiday. Before I could even get a foot in the door, I encountered an older woman spouting off trivial nonsense to one of the stockers – totally blocking the very narrow entrance. I finally entered the store and she was still blocking the aisle with her cart. I grabbed a few orange peppers and suddenly heard her exclaim loudly, “This is totally outrageous, I cannot believe it.” At first I thought I had knocked one of the peppers on the ground and she was reacting to my lack of produce etiquette. It is nearly impossible the way they pile up produce here to not knock a veggie or two onto the ground. No, that was not it at all – whew. She tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the artichokes. “This is an absolute crime – these were 2 for $1.00 just yesterday and now they are 98 cents each.” I just shook my head and agreed with her, although I was thinking to myself – hey, laaaaady, that is how it goes with weekly sales.