The value in a (slightly) more expensive can of tuna

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I was at Dave’s the other day at Cedar and Fairmount. This is the store that might have become a giant Giant Eagle a decade ago, if a small group of vocal citizens hadn’t stood up to object. They succeeded in halting a proposal by the Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain to greatly increase the store’s footprint by blocking off the foot of Grandview Road and building a multi-level parking/shopping experience. I’ve been to one of the Giant Eagles in Pittsburgh that must have fed this vision and hope to never go back; it was overcrowded, slow, confusing and unpleasant.

Incidentally, the efforts of this group of residents led to the formation of FutureHeights, which publishes the Heights Observer and which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

In the meantime, Giant Eagle tried to run its store in the space available at Cedar-Fairmount and eventually gave up, selling it to Daves – a locally owned chain.

It’s a small store, something like 30,000 square feet – less than a third the size of today’s state-of-the-art supercenter.

I feel lucky to have stores like Dave’s and Zagara’s  – which are the only supermarkets I regularly use. I like being able to easily run in and out for just a couple items without being routed through a warren of intentionally confusing “merchandising environments” characteristic of modern supermarkets. I like not having to swipe an affinity card to get sale prices. I like the fact that the staff is abundant, helpful and outwardly friendly. I like the fact that they work so hard to stock the items people in the neighborhood want to buy – even if they don’t have room to stock some of the more exotic items you might find in a 100,000-square-foot supercenter.

I was trying to decide which tuna fish to buy when the woman next to me spoke up. She looked grandmotherly and, like me, she had about five items in her hand-held shopping basket.

“The tuna is expensive here,” she said. “But with gas prices being what they are, I can’t decide if it’s worth the drive to Wal-Mart.”

I hesitated. Despite my own strong feelings about buying local I try not to get into people’s faces over it. But she did raise the question directly.

“No,” I replied. “You should pay the extra 15 cents here and feel good about supporting a local merchant who really cares about our quality of life.”

She tilted her head and we made eye contact. She nodded and picked up two cans of tuna and headed to the checkout.

One day at a time. One small victory at a time.

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