The Neighborhood Grocer

There’s a stereotype of the old-time neighborhood storekeeper, probably named Mr. Feeney, who ran the corner grocery store, watched out for all the kids on the block, disciplined them in the absence of their parents, and dispensed cheer and advice all around.

I guess such a fellow existed in some places, but my family must have lived in a different neighborhood at a different time. We were in the spacious suburbs of Greensboro NC, but oddly enough we did have a corner store right at the end of the block. It was a ratty little place called Mike’s Food Mart. Prior to being a dumpy corner store, it had been a dumpy house and then a dumpy antique store. Needless to say, my parents didn’t patronize the place.

I, on the other hand, patronized it pretty often, starting when I was about 14. I patronized it because I realized the slimy guy who ran it would sell me just about anything I wanted, no questions asked. This I discovered on Halloween night when my friends and I walked in, purchased four dozen eggs and two packs of cigarettes without any hassle at all. No ID check, no “why do you kids need all these eggs on Halloween night”, no nothing.

Over the next two years, I regularly bought cigarettes, beer, porn magazines, and more at Mike’s, always from the same slimy guy, who was always there and who never once questioned me. So much for the nice neighborhood grocer who looked out for the neighborhood kids. This guy was out to make a buck. Period.

Of course, I paid a premium. Cigarettes were 55 cents, a nickel more than at the 7-11 or the gas station at Zayre’s. Budweiser was three bucks a six-pack, compared with $2.25 at Winn-Dixie or Big Star (where I got carded about half the time). But it was worth the extra money to know that “Mike” would take care of me.

The dumpy little store finally closed about the time I graduated from high school, and it was then converted, ironically, into a dumpy little church. But I still remember it every time I visit my current corner store on Folsom Street in San Francisco. I think it’s owned by the same family…