A Kroger storefront gleams in the sunlight, as if it was pulled from a childhood memory. Photo by Katerina Anderson.
JACK WILLIAMS | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Aisle after aisle of cheerful cardboard cartons stretches out of sight. A clerk hands out free samples of cheese and crackers to anyone who asks. These are the kind of comforting memories many Butler students have of shopping with family and friends in their childhoods. Grocery stores serve more than the practical purpose of obtaining food. They are both a connection to hometowns and a launching pad for students beginning to shop and spend independently. Many students are passionate about their store of choice, whatever it may be.
Kroger is a staple on any Indiana shopping list. It was founded in 1883 with a single store in Cincinnati and has expanded to encompass 2,800 stores in 35 states, according to Kroger’s Corporate website. This ubiquity has made the chain a familiar touchpoint to students such as Kate Rashevich, a junior political science major from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who grew up with Kroger as her family’s store of choice.
“I get really homesick sometimes,” Rashevich said. “But walking into Kroger — it has this very familiar smell. I walk in and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is home.’ I felt grounded in that moment.”
The power of Rashevich’s sensory experience shows how deeply grocery stores are interwoven with people’s lives, whether they realize it or not. Having access to aisle after aisle of food while walking with one’s family provides a sense of security. Additionally, as physical locations, chain stores provide shoppers with a sense of agency. The aisles of a Kroger will almost always be organized the same way, regardless of whether it is in Indianapolis or Des Moines. That level of familiarity is reassuring in college when the world seems to change every week.
Rashevich has found that these qualities make Kroger a perfect place to aid in the transition to adulthood and all its responsibilities.
“Grocery stores in general, but in my experience Kroger, are launching points for independence,” Rashevich said. “I can buy my own food, get my own gas and do all these [kinds of] things.”
Childhood grocery stores are a great place to incrementally discover what foods you like to cook and to begin budgeting. Favorite products provide a platform students can expand from as they begin cooking in earnest during their junior or senior years. A little taste of home goes a long way.
Of course, managing money while shopping is no small task for many college students. Finding time to shop between classes and clubs, much less to shop for fresh produce and meats, is challenging. This is why sophomore healthcare and business major Evan Pound, from Terre Haute, Indiana, prefers Meijer.
“Meijer [is the perfect place] for a college student if you’re looking for really good culinary [ingredients] and cuisine that are cost-efficient,” Pound said. “As college students we set out a two-hour window to go shopping and get everything we need for the week. You really just need everything in a one-stop shop, and Meijer always delivers on that.”
Sometimes, students need a birthday card, a pound of beef and a new shirt all at once. Meijer caters to that audience by providing a wide variety of products. The gas money saved from making only one shopping trip adds up over the semester and can be put towards buying quality ingredients.
Pound has a set of favorite brands that he always uses and trusts Meijer will have in stock, among them Black Label bacon. He takes advantage of the Fairview grills and has used them to make everything from burgers to brisket. That level of confidence saves time and reduces the stress that can build up around cooking.
It’s not just the products, either — Pound recalls having positive interactions with the staff.
“Out of all the stores I’ve gone to while being a Butler student in Indianapolis, [Meijer has] the nicest people,” Pound said. “While they’re checking me out, we’re having a good conversation about life. They’re funny; maybe I’ll get a joke in about some coupons.”
Customer service and the general environment are important factors. College students may not be making the biggest purchases, or only coming in when items are on sale, but their experience now affects where they will shop as adults. It feels good to end errands on a happy note, with a joke and a smile rather than a hole in your wallet.
Dante Silva, a sophomore physics and mechanical engineering double major, appreciates the convenience of Kroger and Meijer but prefers the Italian grocery store Lunardi’s in his hometown of San Jose, California.
“Compared to Indiana, I feel like the selection is better,” Silva said. “At Lunardi’s especially, there’s so much more access to different kinds and exotic kinds of meat. I’d be hard-pressed to go to a deli here and say, ‘Hey, can I get a package of thinly sliced prosciutto?’”
San Jose is more easily walkable than the Indianapolis suburbs because it is nestled in a valley between mountains. Residents can make multiple stops in one trip without too much hassle, so grocery stores are smaller and focus on fewer categories of products. Lunardi’s location in the Bay Area means that they stock fresh produce and seafood.
The localized offerings of the deli and bakery root Lunardi’s in a specific time and place of Silva’s life. Silva is proud of his Italian roots and connects with them through his Nonna, or grandmother.
“My favorite memories of going to Lunardi’s are when I was in elementary school,” Silva said. “On Wednesdays, the only person who could pick me up was my Nonna. She would pick me up and say, ‘Alright, we’re going to Lunardi’s. What would you like?’ I would have a full second lunch and a bowl of ice cream.”
Lunardi’s has a hot meal section as well as groceries, so Silva was able to get a full lunch and dessert. His meal of choice was roast chicken leg with the occasional mac n’ cheese. Together, he and his Nonna walked across the green and white tiles while inspecting the veritable orchard that lay upon the shelves. Even now, the curly blue font Lunardi’s name is written in stirs memories.
At the end of the day, grocery stores are just as much about community as cooking and meals are. Shopping seems like a chore, but it sets the stage for so many other aspects of one’s day. The smell of Kroger brand cookies brings Rashevich back to memories of home with her mother and brothers. For Pound, a Meijer discount on the perfect cut of meat means he gets to cook for his roommates. Even shopping itself, whether with family or a friend, can be a bonding opportunity.
This sense of community is evident in Silva’s recounting of shopping with his Nonna at Lunardi’s.
“When the time comes that [my Nonna] isn’t around, I’ve thought, “Will I even be able to step foot in [Lunardi’s]?’” Silva said. “I’ll be hit with waves of [memories of the] times I’ve walked down those aisles with her.”
For Silva, those aisles hold as much family history as a cherished recipe does. Butler students have the opportunity to explore during college and find their own niche corners of the Indianapolis area, whether those are in corporate chains or mom-and-pop shops. Years from now, the mundane moments of life may just be the ones students remember most.