08 February 2009

Small shops vs. supermarkets

The thing about shopping for food in small stores is that you have to walk from one store to the other. Are people really willing to do that much walking, outside in the weather, nowadays? Do they have time?

Everybody works, and by that I mean that in most modern couples both people have jobs. Fewer and fewer couples have the luxury of having one member of the household free to spend time shopping daily — not to mention cooking daily. We all know this.

February skies, Friday, 06 February 2009

Maybe we should set up a society in which there are dozens or scores of little drive-thru specialty shops. We could just drive from one to the other, ordering a nice head of lettuce and some carrots in first one, a chicken in the second, a bottle of wine in the third... Oops, what about the energy costs involved in all that? In this end-of-oil era, it's too late for that kind of progress.

It's nice to see some blue sky in winter.

Not only does it take a lot of time to walk from shop to shop, you have to stand in line in each shop and wait to be served. The food really has to be significantly better for customers to be willing to do that. And then you also have to carry all your purchases home with you. You can't buy much. So day after day, it's the same routine. Where's the romance in that?

Clouds to the northeast of La Renaudière

We had a neighbor in San Francisco who was of Italian extraction. Hers was an interesting story.

Diana's father had immigrated from Italy after World War I, learned some English, and decided he wanted to stay. He returned to Italy, married his childhood sweetheart, and brought her back to San Francisco to live. They ended up running a neighborhood grocery store in the city's Marina District, and living in an apartment over the store.

The neighborhood we and Diana lived in had been a blue-collar area where a lot of Italian (and other immigrant) families settled and raised families. Diana bought her house, new, in 1965, and still lives there, as far as I know.

She would tell me about "those old Italian peasant women" who lived in the neighborhood early on and who would trudge down a very steep hill for half a mile or so, do their shopping, and then lug bags of groceries back up that steep hill — maybe not daily, but several times a week. She admired them, but didn't want to emulate them.

Who is willing to do that any more? Nobody, now that we all have cars. Diana had a small Cadillac, in fact. She wasn't wealthy by any means. She had been in the neighborhood long enough to raise her sons and then watch the area "gentrify" — to see people like us, not blue collar but professionals, arrive in large numbers. There weren't many children in the neighborhood any more. Families had moved to the suburbs.

Sunset Friday 06 Feburary 2009

In Saint-Aignan (pop. 4,000, with another 6,000 in a radius of about 5 miles), the weekly market serves the needs of a lot of older people who live in town and don't drive. It also draws in people from the surrounding countryside, who drive to town and park. There are markets nearly every day in neighboring towns and villages, within 10 or 15 miles, but you have to drive to them of course. It can be fun to go to the big outdoor markets in Selles-sur-Cher, Loches, or Amboise on warm, sunny days, but it's more for the excursion and the "tourist" experience, and not a weekly or even monthly activity.

There are very few food shops left in the town of Saint-Aignan — the one I miss most is a good cheese shop, but there's a great cheese vendor at the Saturday market — and there is only one small supermarket in the town center. Another went out of business a few years ago, just as the two charcuterie (delicatessen) shops recently have shut down. It makes you wonder how much longer the butchers will be able to stay in business.

The weather turned colder on Saturday,
but the snow didn't stick.

At least two bread bakeries (boulangeries) have also disappeared over the past five years. Two have remained, and one bakery that was a pâtisserie, a pastry shop, was taken over a year or two ago by a boulanger, a bread baker — so that makes three bread bakeries in town. Plus four more within a couple of miles.

There is a new chocolate shop. Luxury products are the last refuge of small merchants who want to stay in business, I guess. For a while between 2004 and 2007, there was a shop specializing in locally grown, organic produce and local wines, but it only stayed in business for a year or two.

Meanwhile, a boulanger started a new business out in the vineyards, baking bread in wood-fired ovens in a new building. His shop is two or three miles from town, and a mile or two even from our village (where there is also a boulangerie — the one that delivers our bread).

Many wondered how the boulangerie in the vineyards would manage to survive. Well, the man wasn't crazy. It turns out that the little road he set up business on is on what passes for a major "commute route" in the area. There's a big home for mentally handicapped children just to the west, and a lot of the employees there come from Saint-Aignan and pass by the bakery every morning and every afternoon. There's ample parking.

The commuters, along with the occasional customers drawn to this baker's high-quality, out-of-the-ordinary baked goods, seem to be spending enough to keep him in business.

Toward sunset on Saturday, after a snowy day

You still see older women on bicycles riding along the main road into town. But not many. Everybody drives. Even on a bicycle, you can't carry a lot of stuff home. So you have to make a lot of trips to the stores. There is no public transportation any more — not since "everybody" can afford a car.

One good thing is that so many people around here, like us, have vegetable gardens in the summertime. With a few specialty shops, a good number of bakeries, and our gardens, we have easy access to all the food shopping points we need. But mostly by car — and that of course includes supermarkets.

By the way, I think the French invented the big-box combination store concept — stores selling sundries, hardware, groceries, meats, fish, cheese, and produce. Here such a store is called a hypermarché, a "hypermarket" (as opposed to a relatively puny supermarché). It was Carrefour that started the trend, I believe, and in America WalMart copied that with its supercenters. I may be wrong about that... We don't have WalMart in France.


  1. Hi Ken,
    Your 'dreamconcept' of a drive-through' store with fine gourmet food is very appealing. In fact, it makes me think of the 'Halles' at Tours. Have you ever been there? Of course, you don't actually 'drive' through them (you walk like in a regular supermarket), but it's like a giant supermarket with different tradespeople selling incredibly fresh, top quality food. You stand in line and wait your turn to be served. But at least you're indoors and the vendor gives you free advice if you ask for it (and even when you don't).

    At +/- 10 km from our village we have 'Rob - the gourmet store', something in between a supermarket and les 'halles'. The shopping cards/baskets are gold-coloured and a doorman in livery helps you to carry your shopping to your car. I've shopped there twice over the holiday period for fresh (shell)fish, partridge, ... It's a gourmet's dream ... but not a place you go to every day unless you're Paris Hilton (although I don't think she does her own shopping and cooking!). Martine

    P.S. Rob is also part of the Carrefour group.

  2. What it needs is updated covered markets (rather like the way department stores reinvented themselves as collections of branded boutiques) so that everyone could be under one roof and in the warm and yet have access to different independent retailers, some in their own shops and some in farmers' market stall space. But heaven knows how it could be made to work financially. Ecologically, supermarkets seem to be a nightmare, what with trucking stuff into central warehouses and out again (sometimes all the way back practically to where it came from).

  3. I would have small shops to a huge supermarket anyday....they know how to look after their customers better..well the butcher and veg man and the hardware shop in my village do.

    Just reading Ladybirds comment about "Halles" I think that is a great idea.

    A lot of our small shops in the next town, ie butchers, veg shops, deli, closed down years ago when they introduced "The Big Supermarkets" such a shame.

  4. When my wife and I visit France we try to avoid the supermarches as much as possible and shop at outdoor weekly markets or small shops. I understand the reason for the dominance of supermarkets, but feel it is unfortunate. Much better are the Halles in various cities, such as Cahors, Nimes, Avignon, etc. But I think they only work in larger settings.

    Here in the US where we live, we are lucky to have a good number of small shops in addition to supermarkets. While I go to the supermarkets for staples, I patronize the small shops as much as possible.

  5. Martine, yes, I've been to Les Halles in Tours several times since the year 2000, when I first spent time in the Touraine. If I could walk there, or if it weren't in the middle of a big city and I could easily drive there, it would be a great place to shop. But even after shopping there, I would still need to go to the supermarket for other products.

    Bob, you have to admit, and I do too, that what you do on vacations in really nice: shop in markets, small specialty shops, not commute every day... But real life is different from that. I really don't feel it is unfortunate that we have supermarkets, or even that they dominate the market. Life would be very difficult without them.

    The main thing is that the supermarkets be stocked with good, fresh, unadulterated products. I know the charm of small shops, but I'm not sure they are well adapted to our modern lifestyles.

  6. Yes, Ken, I do realize that our vacation shopping is not reality. We have friends in France who returned there after 35 years in North America.. They said when they visited every year, they always did their shopping in small shops, but when they retired and moved back to France, the reality of living on a fixed income set in and they did most of their shopping in at supermarkets.

    On the other hand, even at home we do as much shopping at small shops and farmers markets as possible. I realize not everyone can do that, whether for financial reasons or otherwise. We have the freedom that comes from being childless and self-employed working from home. But I also think that too much of our "modern lifestyle" is self-imposed. Maybe people should try to change that a bit.

    Keep up the interesting posts. By the way, we were in St. Aignan about 15 years ago. From your description, I have a feeling it has changed a lot.

  7. Ken, I'd say you're right on about the hypermarché concept happening in France before Walmart started its Super Centers. Even the smaller versions like small Monoprix stores have that cool concept... dept store above, groceries below! I thought that was great. I remember going to Inno (are they still around)-- there was a big one about by Nation and one around Montparnasse, but the store over by the Beaubourg was the real HYPERmarché.... maybe it was Carrefour?


  8. Of course it is all a simple matter of supply and demand. If the small stores are not patronized they will close and of course the large supermarkets are not going to carry all the local products so the producers go out of business as well.....and the beat goes on.

    I understand the logistics of large supermarkets, busy families etal. I drive to St. Louis to buy my fish at the best fish monger in St. Louis Bob's Seafood as the fish in our supermarkets is not fresh. I also drive across the river to go to Whole Foods but they are very expensive and I question the validity of their "organic" label. In the spring, summer and fall months on Saturdays our local street fresh market is growing bigger every year. I have to get there early to get my eggs and produce. But the products are far superior to the supermarket and is worth the trouble. And I want them to do well and keep coming back. One does have to make an effort if they want good food.

    While I am not downplaying the importance of supermarkets as I spend a lot of money in them, there are many inherent problems with their products and what we eat in America. Most of Americas beef is corn fed and very fatty contributing to cheaper beef and a fatter population. It is very difficult to find grass fed beef. Last year the US had a big problem with ecoli scares in spinach and tomatoes. Even in the summer months it is impossible to find locally grown produce in the supermarkets and I live in the midwest where it is grown.

    As you can tell I cook a lot. My mother was a french war bride and she is the one who taught me how to cook and use fresh ingredients. My husband and I don't eat out much in our small town as there are no good restaurants so I cook. If we had access to good neighborhood bistros and cafes maybe I wouldn't be so desperate for decent purveyors.

    Gee Ken I bet you didn't think grocery shopping could start such big discussions! I love this blog and everyone has such great insights! Wherever we shop I'm sure none of us is starving.

  9. A thought-provoking post, and interestingly, it is exactly the theme I am using to teach "retailing" language in one of my English classes. I may even use your post in class! That would be a first.

    I have heard that Carrefour started the hypermarket concept and that indeed, it is a French concept. But doesn't Walmart predate Carrefour? Walmart isn't exactly the same, either, since they don't do fresh food (at least not the ones I know, but I pretty much boycott them anyway and don't know about the "Super Centers" mentioned in the comments above.)

    I try to spread my shopping around. I can't really bear big hypermarkets anymore, except to drop in for something quick during off hours. It's kind of a claustrophobia thing that I only get in hypermarkets -- strange.

    Our food bill has gone down, anyway, since this phenomenon hit me (for the second time, actually -- I got this "hypermarket" illness for the first time back in Touraine when we were shopping at the then-Mammouth in Chambray.) I shop at a mix of a smaller supermarket (Ecomarché,) a few locally owned fresh food shops (kind of a mix of primeur and butcher's,) my village's little grocery, bakeries, of course, and a specialty cheese shop in Rodez. It's not that much running around since I work in town anyway.

  10. Hi Linda, I'm glad you are commenting here. It sounds like where you live is a little like the San Francisco Bay Area, where I used to live. It's a huge sprawling city where people drive 50 or more miles in the morning to go to work, and the same to return home at night. Where people drive many miles to shop in special stores because that's where the good products are.

    Saint-Aignan is so different from that, and our supermarkets are pretty different in many ways from American supermarkets. It's hard to describe. The supermarkets here do sell local products. It's obvious with the cheeses, wines, and some meat products (sausages, hams, etc.), because they are labeled. It's less obvious with produce and eggs. But I think a lot of the produce is local.

    Actually, by American standards, anything French qualifies as local here. France just isn't that big -- the whole country is probably about as big as Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Arkansas combined. Nowhere is far from the coast. It would be as if you in Illinois got hardly any produce from California, and that's not the case. Most of the produce you buy is "imported" from lands far away.

    Yes, it's all business realities. And unless we return to a time when people don't have cars and can't drive 10 or 20 or 40 miles to the supermarket, it isn't going to change.

    Judy, that hypermarket over by the Pompidou Center was called As Éco, I think. I remember it well. It had underground parking and was open 24 hours a day. It's not there any more.

    Bob, it's not only price that makes the supermarkets more attractive, of course. If you have to drive and try to find a place to park in town, and then walk up and down streets and hills in all kinds of weather to visit shop after shop for your everyday buying, that gets old pretty fast. In an ideal world, we would have nice supermarkets selling fine foods for our regular shopping, and then a variety of small shops selling specialty items for special occasions. Wouldn't it be nice?

    I think our lifestyles will continue changing over time, but it's a slow process. The American landscape is obviously built for the internal combustion engine: everything is far from everything else. In France, the country is moving in that direction, but the place is not too far gone yet.

    I wonder if Saint-Aignan has changed a lot in 15 years. There are certainly more houses in the outlying areas, but there aren't any big housing developments. The town itself doesn't appear to have changed much in the last 150 years!


  11. Hi Betty, the WalMart Super Center in my home town in North Carolina definitely sells fresh food. It's much like a Carrefour or Auchan or Leclerc store, with groceries on one side of the building and all the rest on the other side. WalMart in its earlier incarnation may have existed before Carrefour came along, but I think their Super Centers with groceries came later.

    You are lucky to work in and live near a town the size of Rodez. We here in Saint-Aignan are about an hour from Tours/Chambray and nearly an hour from Blois. And you are right: that strip south of Tours, through Chambray and down toward Monbazon along the N10 is abominable. It reminds me of the worst "strips" in the U.S. We go there once in a while to shop at Leroy-Merlin (that's the closest one to us) but not to buy groceries, that's for sure. Our supermarkets in Saint-Aignan are pretty small, when I think about it.

    Spreading your shopping around is the ideal, if it is convenient. We go to the butcher shops in Saint-Aignan for special items, and we have our bread delivered. Otherwise, for us it's mainly the supermarkets, especially SuperU and Intermarché.

  12. This post has definitely generated a lot of interesting comments. And Ken, your mention of the higher quality of supermarkets in France vis-a-vis the US spurred my memory to some visits to French supermarkets. I recall some supermarkets where it seemed that the butcher section was kind of a concession which was essentially an independent butcher shop within the store. And I recall another large shop (Champion in Remoulins) where the staff was constantly bringing out new beautiful looking produce. And when the lettuce I was looking for was gone, an employee who seemed like a manager told me to wait while he restocked. With some exceptions (a horrible Super U we went to in the Minervois area, for example), the average French supermarket is as good or better than a top of the line American market such as Whole Foods.

  13. Walmart is a relative newcomer in the PNW -- we didn't have any at all until about ten years ago. So as you can see, I'm not up on its latest incarnations.

    Your mention of Leroy Merlin in Chambray brought back many memories! My husband spent hours there buying stuff to fit out our first house, in Montbazon.

    I agree with Bob that French supermarkets/hypermarkets are generally pretty nice affairs, although there are some attractive ones where I'm from in the USA. My parents loved them when they used to come and visit, and were amazed at the choices available.

    After my final horrifying experience in Mammouth in Chambray (I think I almost got knocked over by an employee whizzing by on roller skates) I did all of my shopping in ATAC (sp?) stores in Monts and Sorigny, and then filled in with local shops. Montbazon had (and still has, at least as of last year) and excellent butcher's and a real charcuterie. For a good cheese shop, though, I had to go to Tours.

  14. Betty, I like the ATAC markets too but we don't have one near Saint-Aignan. There are a couple in Amboise, but that's too much of a drive. And there is one in Esvres, not far from Montbazon. We often stop there on the way home from the Leroy-Merlin excursions. I like driving through the country rather than on the main roads between Tours/Chambray and Saint-Aignan.

    Bob, SuperU is our nicest supermarket in Saint-Aignan right now. It's clean and light and has good produce, meat, and cheese. Intermarché used to be nicer, but it has declined slightly. Champion is in dire need of upgrades.

  15. Ken,
    Maybe the differences between supermarkets are sometimes localized. The Super U in the Minervois I mentioned was dreary, dirty, ad had terrible produce, meats, cheese, whereas the Champion in Remoulins was bright, clean, and had excellent produce. Maybe each one was an anomaly. In the Northeast US, for example, there are some chains that have nice looking, decent quality stores in one location but horrible, dreary places in others.

    We'll be in France in a month (and for a month), and I'll have to do some comparison between supermarkets. But we'll still do most of our shopping at weekly markets and small shops.

    By the way, one thing I'm almost always disappointed in at French grocery shops, no matter how nice, is the wine selection. Even if the selection is huge, the quality is usually pretty mediocre. But fortunately there are always wineries around to buy at.

  16. I guess I don't agree about the wine sections at French supermarkets. We don't have any local wine shops to compare them to, but it seems to me that our three main supermarkets sell a wide variety of wines from all around France. Of course I don't buy much wine in supermarkets because I buy from local producers in the wine villages around Saint-Aignan, both co-ops and individual winemakers.

  17. An addition: wine is such a completely different thing here in France compared to the U.S. It's an everyday product, not a luxury item. So many regions, including Touraine, have local wines that you don't have to pay much for decent or even very good wine. You'd probably be shocked to know how much I pay for good Gamay or Cabernet reds and Sauvignon whites. Peanuts.

  18. I've spent a fair amount of time perusing the wine aisles at French supermarkets (among other things, I'm a part-time wine writer), and while the selection can be vast, I find the quality generally dismal (although not as dismal as in most American supermarkets). So like you, we buy direct from local co-ops and small producers when we're in France. In fact, among the best buys I've ever gotten in France was at a small producer in the Loire, near Amboise. We had just arrived in France with our niece and her husband, and we stopped at this little place where the vigneron opened his cave (basically his garage), and let us try wine from his vats. We bought 3 bottles, and when our niece's husband heard the price he asked me if his calculation was correct. It was the equivalent of around $9 for 3 bottles.

  19. That sounds about right for Touraine wines. I pay considerably less because I don't buy the wine in bottles, but in bulk. I take my own jugs to the winery and have them filled.

    Again, "fine" wines are a lot more expensive in France, but wine here is an everyday product. The quality is good but we're not talking about wines that you cellar for years. They are wines to drink young and which complement but don't compete with food. Vins de soif, they call them.

  20. I do drive around for groceries but I am probably the exception in this area. Growing up we ate lamb, veal, fish, endive, kale etc all the items that this area thinks are exotic. Of course as a young girl I thought everyone ate like this till we moved to the midwest. I always have to explain to the checkers at the grocery what I am buying and what I do with it. I think it's elementary but after years of these experiences I guess it isn't. So many Americans are used to buying canned vegetables they hardly know what to do with the fresh. Prime example is that nasty green bean casserole served at many Thanksgiving dinners! YIKES scary.

    The french probably did start the concept of department store shopping. After all they have invented everything, n'est ce pas?

    With french women driving to supermarches to stock up, they won't be walking and cycling as much. Oh la la, fat french women, that makes me chuckle! Hee Hee...

    Ken you have interesting readers. Keep up the good blogging.

  21. Ah, how I'd love to be able to go to a winery with a vrac or jug and have it filled with good wine. When we're in France we want to try so many different wines in such a short time that we never buy a vrac, or a bag-in-box. But we also rarely buy top-echalon wines (except in Chateauneuf du Pape and Alsace, 2 of my weaknesses). Just good wines to drink with our meals.

    Yes, Americans do look at wine differently. They think of wine as something that has to be expensive in order for it to be good, and mostly for special occasions. In fact, it's not just Americans. I overheard a conversation between a Parisian and an American in Boston, and the Parisian agreed with the American that French wines are good but very, very expensive. I wanted to butt in and say that's only if you're talking about classified Bordeaux, Burgundies, etc. In addition, it's tough to match California when you're talking about overpriced wines.

  22. For a second I thought this was the "Bob and Ken show" (LOL).
    It is all about convenience really.
    For a couple who both work and have a commute of 1 hour 1/2 each way, it is about time.
    Let's face it, Europe is getting to be more like the US when it comes to chain stores. Mom and Pop's stores grew old and just grew older, not better. We want cheap(er) and we want it fast,
    in and out and you are right Ken, there better be plenty of parking spaces. Another way of life is disappearing. At least, twice a week in France, you have the open air markets.

  23. Nadège, exactly, that way of life is (slowly) disappearing because people don't want to live that way any more. As long as the products sold in supermarkets are good and the prices are moderate, that's where people will shop — for everyday foods.

    Linda, you might be surprised to see how many overweight French women, men, adolescents, and children there are nowadays. I think it has to do with a diet of soft drinks and fast foods, including processed foods from the supermarket. The French didn't invent soft drinks or McDonald's, as far as I know!

    Bob, thanks for all the comments. We agree about wine. You can pay as much as you want for it, but the high price doesn't guarantee good quality and drinkability. My approach is to try reasonably priced wines and if they are good, keep buying and drinking them. If they aren't so good, move on. Find something else.

    Here a good Vouvray costs between 5 and 6 euros a bottle. Sancerre, 6 or 7 euros. Chinon and Bourgeuil, 4 to 7 euros.

  24. Just one more set of comments for me, Ken. How I envy your wine selection and prices. Here in the US the gap between Vouvray and Sancerre is much greater. Sancerre under $20 is tough to find. The big problem with Vouvray is finding good ones. On the other hand, there is plenty of good Chinon and Bourgeuil, but again generally, although not always, at high prices. But wines from the less-fashionable Saumur appellation are more reasonably priced, and often of very high quality.

  25. It's funny about Vouvray -- Chenin Blanc must not travel well. The sparkling Vouvrays, whether brut or demi-sec, are excellent. And the still wines, whether dry, demi-sec, or moelleux (sweet) are really good too.

    I'm going to North Carolina next Monday and staying two weeks. I get back to France one day before my birthday. Since I will travel by train from the airport north of Paris to the TGV station in Tours, which is only 2 or 3 miles from Vouvray, one of the things I plan to do is go to Vouvray and buy some wine at the Aubert winery. I'll enjoy it on my birthday. 60. It's a big deal, I guess.

  26. Well happy upcoming birthday to you Ken! I have a big one coming up in June myself. But not quite that big yet!

  27. As for the wine, reasonable French wines are definitely one of the great pleasures of living here. I find that American wines are very good in general too, but you have to pay the price.

  28. Hi Betty, thanks for the birthday wishes. Yes, it the big 6-0. The first time I came to France was in 1969, when I was 20. On n'a pas tous les jours 20 ans !

    I think a lot of California wines are really good too, but as you say you have to pay the price. I really like the Loire Valley wines -- and the prices.

  29. I agree wholeheartedly about Loire Valley wines. While both Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are grown all over the world, nowhere do they compare to those from the Loire. 10 years ago my wife and I spent a week in the Loire with our niece and her husband. We then went to northern Burgundy for a week and brought loads of Loire Valley wines with us. I think the Burgundians must have thought we were a little strange.

  30. I think I've told you this before, but we don't find a great selection of Loire Valley wines down here. I mean we can get some good ones, but the choice is limited. I wish I had paid more attention to them when I was living up there!

  31. Interesting post and comments! I have to say my experience doesn't mirror yours. Our local small town (pop. c 6000) has a tatty Champion, a locally owned Intermarché (both out of town), 3 "hard-discount" stores (Aldi, Lidl etc.) that have opened in the last few years, and a small town-centre supermarket. It also has 2 greengrocers, a couple of charcuteries, half a dozen butchers, 3 fishmongers, and I don't know how many bakeries and patisseries, at least 6 in total I would say. It also has an excellent old-style outdoor market on Wednesdays, which is well patronised by locals, not just tourists. All parking in town is free, and while it can be crowded you can always find a space somewhere.

    We both work, but we do most of our food shopping in small shops and the market, visiting one of the supermarkets every couple of weeks to stock up on the boring stuff. Frankly, it takes little more time than trudging round the supermarket and queuing up at the checkout, and it's much more pleasant. I do hope our town won't go the way of yours! But people get the shops they deserve. If you don't shop in small local shops you can't complain when they go out of business!

    In terms of supermarkets, Intermarché is actually very good. As someone else mentioned, the dairy and meat counters are concessions and the quality is excellent, particularly the cheese. I like to know I'm supporting local businesses by shopping there.

    As far as wine is concerned, in my experience if you live in a wine-producing area in France it's quite difficult to find wines from other parts of France, let alone other countries! I'm not complaining, I like Minervois and Corbières :) I wouldn't buy in supermarkets though, unless I was desperate, as they are the last resort for winemakers to get rid of excess stocks in time for the next harvest. And the supermarket buyers' main criteria seem to be price and profit margin, not quality. So generally the quality is not that good. I'd much rather buy from the producer or a specialist shop.

  32. Veronica, what town do you live in? It sounds great. I was going to guess Nyons until you mentioned Corbieres/Minervois. Your insights about shopping and wine mirror those of me and my wife.
    I'm fortunate to live in a small city in an area of the US where local shops are managing to hang on, and farmers markets are proliferating. But no US town of 6,000 would ever have the kind of amenities you describe.

  33. Veronica, I don't know where you live, but I have to assume that our supermarkets here in Saint-Aignan are nicer than the ones in your town! Both our Intermarché and SuperU stores have recently been upgraded, and the selection of meats, fruit & vedge, and cheeses are excellent in both. If your Champion is like ours, that's too bad. I think Champion is going through a major transformation right now. Let's hope for the best. It used to be the best supermarket around.

    I assume that somebody will come in to open new charcuteries in Saint-Aignan. In the meantime, there are three excellent charcuterie stands at the Saturday market, and there is an excellent shop across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher (all of 2 miles away). And there are a couple of other excellent charcuterie stands at the Sunday market in Noyers too.

    I'm sure the people of Saint-Aignan are excellent shoppers and judges of good products. As I said, most of us have nice gardens, and I get the impression from goods I see on sale at the supermarket that people around here make their own charcuterie and confit de canard and foie gras, not to mention vegetables.

    My point is that "supermarket" does not automatically equal "inferior products" — far from it. Hey, maybe your weather down south is warmer and sunnier, and therefore more conducive to walking from shop to shop or doing your shopping in open-air markets. It's cold and gray up here in the wintertime — especially this winter.

    I'm glad to discover your blog. Thanks. Ken

  34. Hi Bob and Ken

    We actually live in a small village (pop. 250, 1 épicerie hanging on by the skin of its teeth). Our local town is Lézignan Corbières; it probably does better than many other towns that size because it's the focal point and main shopping town for quite a large rural area surrounding it.

    Re Champion, they are actually currently constructing a centre commercial of which the focal point will be a larger, better equipped supermarket -- along with space for other shops. This worries me slightly as it could have a negative effect on shops in the town centre if people can "one-stop shop" here. We shall see!

    Ken, you could be right about the weather. Certainly strolling round the market seems considerably less attractive when it's raining :) But I hope you don't get the idea it's always warm here; winter can be bitterly cold at times, with high winds, though not normally as bad as the ones that felled thousands of trees a couple of weeks ago and caused a 36-hour powercut.

    PS I've been lurking a while, having followed you from Loulou's blog!

  35. Veronica, when I thought about it afterwards, my guess was Lezignan. We stayed in Conhilac-Corbieres 12 years or so ago, and did most of our shopping in Lezignan. But then I think there were only 2 fishmongers. We did return there a few years ago, but we stopped in on market day and it was so crowded with vendors that we didn't really recognize the town.


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