Among the corporate supermarket powerhouses here in Portland are the California-based Safeway stores. Over the years, I've had a few different Safeways in my household shopping rotation, but after several really lousy experiences of late, I'm swearing them all off. I don't care if they're giving stuff away; I intend to eliminate completely my appearances within their walls.
My discontent with this chain has been growing as I have watched the fairly rapid deterioration of the store on Northeast Broadway near Lloyd Center. Substantially renovated within the last deacde, this was until recently a clean and decent, though somewhat cramped, place to shop.
But something's happened. The shopping carts are all disgustingly filthy, and most of them are broken. Here in Oregon, there's a nickel deposit on carbonated beverage containers; well, at this store the bottle return machines are in the scary basement garage. It is an absolute den of contagion, and often the machines are out of order. One night I was told by a teenage clerk that they simply would not accept bottles that night, because all the machines were on the blink. When I complained to the manager on duty, I got a blank stare. This seems to be standard Safeway policy: Make the bottle deposit operation (which is required by Oregon law) uniformly as awful for the customer as possible. They don't hassle you when they charge you the deposit, but they sure are a**holes when it's time to pay you back.
The shelf-stocking policy at the Lloyd store is also simply weird. There are quite a few items that the store keeps one of. Not one case -- one unit. Try buying canned Safeway lemon-lime seltzer there. Just try. It's a popular item, good and cheap, but there is room for only four six-packs of it on the shelf. And there's never any there. Never. Maybe you can track down one of the kids who work there and see if he or she can bootleg you a couple of sixes out of the back. Although that does the trick on occasion (the wait is only around 10 minutes), the usual answer is no.
But the real capper at the Lloyd Center Safeway store is trying to go to the bathroom. There's only one, unisex rest room, in the back of the store next to the pharmacy, and it is so heinously filthy that you will run for your life rather than touch anything in it. I recently flushed the toilet using my foot. Every known variety of human bodily discharge is there for your visual, tactile, and olfactory absorption.
And getting there is half the fun. To gain entry to this fine comfort station, which is locked (presumably to prevent drug overdoses and prostitution), you first must figure out that you need to go back up to the front of the store. There, after you wait who knows how long to talk to a "customer service" person who's busy on the phone attending to the Mysterious Safeway Agenda, he or she will page the security guard, who is the only person with a key. Then back to the locked bathroom door you go to wait some more. He'll be there in, say, five minutes or so.
Promising my bladder that I'd never return to the Lloyd Center store, I thought I'd try the Rose City Safeway, up where Northeast Fremont meets Sandy Boulevard. Last night was the last time I'll do that. I made the mistake of trying to return empty cans. To begin with, the concrete under my feet at the bottle return machines in the frigid parking lot was so sticky that I nearly pulled a hamstring just trying to step to the next machine. Half the infernal machines weren't functioning, of course, and the one that was, decided that it wasn't going to take Canada Dry Ginger Ale. "Not carried at this store," said the petty little red screen on this noisy robot.
But while I was shopping, I noticed that indeed, that product is carried at this store, and so I asked the "customer service" gal (around 20 years old) if she could give me my deposit back. Since making contact of any kind with the empties is not her job, she hailed a teenage clerk, who informed her, with touching frankness, that he wasn't going to do it, either. So then she paged another teenage clerk, who appeared after around five minutes.
This kid's first order of business was to spend another five minutes verifying that indeed, they do accept this type of can. First he tried to put one through the machine himself to make sure I wasn't lying or hallucinating. Then he had to check with his boss to make sure I wasn't trying to cheat Safeway out of the buck I wanted back. (It says "Oregon deposit - 5 cents" right on the can.) Finally, begrudgingly, he vocalized the count as I -- the customer -- counted the cans out by hand. He then wrote me out a little makeshift slip for the $1.35.
But then, then came the highlight of all my Safeway days and nights over lo, these many years. When I went back to pick up my cart full of groceries and resume shopping, I discovered that someone had taken it from where I left it. I searched around that spot for about 20 yards in every direction. No sign of it. So I returned to the "customer service" queen. Oh, yes, she's right on it once again -- pages yet another teenager. He takes a quick look through the store's cooler, finds nothing, gives me the bad news and the trademark Safeway Blank Stare. And then right back to bagging groceries he goes.
We are now looking at about an hour of my life down the drain.
I got my $7 bottle deposit in cash and left. And I will never, ever, ever willingly return. To any Safeway store in Portland.
The checkout clerks at Safeway make a big deal out of trying to pronounce your last name. I'm sure their headquarters requires them to do it. Hey, Safeway, stop wasting people's time with that. Get busy with a freakin' washrag and a mop, restock the shelves when they're empty, and start hiring some help with at least a slight clue about actual customer service.