Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bah Humbug in Baldwin

It is no secret that I have been more than disappointed by my local grocer—Waldbaums, a division of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P). From holes on the shelves to one less than enthusiastic manager, Waldbaums’ Sunrise Highway, Baldwin, N.Y., location has been falling short of my expectations for a while. But its most recent move may have killed my patronage with the brand for good.

More than a year ago, I ran into a friend in the dairy section (he works for a direct-store-delivery vendor). Here, he gave me the low-down that my store was closing.

I wasn’t surprised by the news. At the time, Waldbaums was retrofitting a larger location on the other side of town. (Today, that store touts expanded sections, savvy services, and even attractive, customer-facing technologies, including self-checkout. It was obvious where the company was investing its capital.)

Two weeks ago, my husband ran to our store (which is less than one mile from our home) to pick up a couple of staples. When he came home, he told me my friend’s prediction was finally coming true—and the effects were obvious.

All gift cards (both Waldbaums’ cards and other retailer cards) were gone and many shelves were almost bare. The only warning he had was a sign on the door that said the store would close by the end of the month. Worse, it was not honoring sales advertised in the weekly circular.

I have no problem with the company’s overall decision to close the location. I understand it takes money, energy and labor to run a retail location. However, this has Scrooge written all over it.

There is not one retailer that does not rely on the loyalty of its shoppers during the holiday season. However I find it completely selfish that this retail location certainly didn’t take our loyalty into consideration when planning the best time to close.

Clearly, the store thought it was doing local residents a favor by staying open until after the holidays. But if some store shelves were already bare two weeks before Christmas how helpful will staying open really be?

While it may have been a sacrifice to stock shelves and service customers until the end of January, it also would have been a smart move in regard to customer service.

As I prepare my holiday feast this weekend, I will be making my shopping list and checking it twice to ensure that I have all ingredients we need. Then I will remember how Waldbaums’ decision to inconvenience shoppers during the holiday season wasn’t just selfish. This was a bad business decision that could cost the whole brand dearly.

—Deena M. Amato-McCoy