This is not a commercial announcement

Every so often in this business you talk with someone about something innocuous and good, not at all related to the horrors and angst and politics and such.

I had that pleasure this weekend, while finishing up a story on the new service Cannata’s offers its customers. I spoke a lot with Vince Cannata. I also spoke with Donny Rouse, who heads up the Rouses grocery chain, and what both of these guys have in common is that they are local people who have spent lifetimes keeping family businesses going.

They face threats, these local grocers, not only from the elephant in the room, which is Walmart, but also the various online outlets that more and more are making a dent in the grocery business. It used to be that folks ordered online for specialty stuff you can’t get here, and now they do it for Tide and frozen steaks. A word here about Walmart, incidentally. I know they are seen as the big old corporate monster by a lot of people who shop there nonetheless. But they have a long-established corporate giving policy that has helped people out locally. And their employees are local folks, too.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. I talked with this woman whose name is Julie Steigner and she beta-tested this program. She should do commercials for Cannata’s, because that is how enthusiastic she is about the new program. Anyone who has ever walked through a grocery store with two or three kids can understand immediately, because this curbside deal eliminates that.

Julie told me how she put the program through its paces by being very specific about what she ordered, and how she is one of those people who always takes the milk from the back of the display case, because it’s always supposed to be fresher. And it brought me back more decades than I care to disclose, back to when I was a kid in Jackson Heights, New York, where there was a Key Food grocery store around the corner. Two brothers, Simon and Hyman, owned the place, and they had bicycles with big balloon tires and big baskets on the front that delivery boys would pedal to your house, bringing the groceries inside your door. I was one of these, because in my neighborhood becoming a Key Food delivery boy was a rite of passage.

I remember seeing both the brothers, middle aged guys with dark, receding hair and glasses, wearing light blue smocks, wheeling carts through their store filling orders for folks who called in.

“Hey mom, you should call up Key Food and let them shop and deliver,” I remember saying, to this woman who raised me and would spend twenty minutes picking out just the right clove of garlic. My suggestion was selfish. I had to go with her to the store and hated spending all that time.

“No way,” she said in that firm, no-nonsense voice she used for only the most important things. “I’ve seen them shop. They put the crappiest onions in the cart. They probably put the old milk in, too.”

I was reminded of all this when I wrote about the Cannata’s add-on, and for a moment I could smell the sawdust on the floor of the meat department at Key Food in Queens, N.Y., and the aroma of the fresh fruit and vegetables permeating the store, all combined with the perky smell of detergent and other boxed goods that made for that unmistakable grocery store smell. My conversation with Julie Steigner made clear that my now-departed, sainted mom’s concerns would have been for naught had she been offered the Cannata’s Curbside experience. But it also made me think of a forgotten conversation with her, and so helped retrieve a cherished memory. The experience also helped me remember how important it is that here in Terrebonne Parish we are blessed to have locally owned stores like Cannata’s and Rouses, Marcel’s and Frank’s. It is also reminded me of how, whether picking up curbside at Cannata’s or picking out ready-to-eat ribs or chicken at Rouses, those grocers are working hard to make sure that we have variety and options that make our lives easier, and permit more time to be spent with the people we love. •