Here's Something: Gray Market deserves a shop-local shoutout

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About this time of year, we’re urged by business leaders to shop local. Rather than spend our money online or at a big-box store, where money is siphoned out of the local economy, we’re encouraged to do all our holiday shopping in town.

Shopping locally is a noble pursuit, but sometimes leaves the consumer wanting. But we all agree shopping local is preferable, when possible. And when you’re able to find what you need locally, it seems a Christmas miracle has occurred.

In downtown Gray, where I run errands, we don’t need a miracle to get our shopping done – at least when it comes to groceries. All year through, in fact, we’ve got Gray Shop ’n Save to provide all we need in a compact, pleasant shopping experience.

I wish there were more stores like Gray Shop ’n Save, or Gray Market, as the locals call it. In this season of celebrating shop-local experiences, here is a Christmas List set of reasons why Gray Market, an independently owned grocery store, exceeds expectations.

While Gray Market – which has anchored Gray Plaza on Route 100 for about 30 years – is small, it’s big with choice. Discount superstores and big boxes have lots of choice, but they are just too big. Gray Market is tiny in comparison. The aisles are short, the items are relatively limited, but the store carries every category of item you could ever need.

The selection is immense, actually. They might not have 100 kinds of soup, as a supermarket would, but they have at least 25 varieties. Do we really need more choices? The soup example replicates itself around the store.

Another thing that always brings me back to Gray Market is the ease of parking. All the parking spots are within 25 yards of the front door, and most of the time you can park in the front row right next to the entrance. This is ideal for older people who don’t want to walk through a large parking lot, dodging cars and carts the whole way.

Its size is also ideal for quick in-and-out trips to pick up essentials. You can park, walk through the front door, find your items, check out and walk back to your car in about seven minutes flat. You can’t even get through a big-box check-out line in seven minutes.

They have more than the essentials, too. They have live lobsters in a tank, a salad bar, rotisserie chickens, a newspaper rack, a coffee grinding station, an adult beverage corner and a deli.

It’s never all that crowded, either. Supermarkets, with their echoing massive ceilings and sterile concrete floors, seem frenetic in comparison. Noise and clatter dominate supermarkets, but Gray Market is quiet and serene, with music playing inside and out. It’s just a comfortable atmosphere.

And Gray Market’s cashiers are long-serving, friendly and helpful. I’ve been shopping there for about 15 years and frequently see the same cashiers. They’re almost all women of middle-age or older. Some strike up a conversation while others just take care of business checking and bagging your items. I never see the same cashier twice in a big-box store.

I once witnessed a Gray Market cashier do something I’ve never seen at a supermarket. She introduced herself to a group of little kids and their mother, and even wrote down their names so the next time she saw them she’d be able to address them by name. Amazing.

And every register has a bowl of free stickers for little kids. Would this happen at a big-box store or supermarket? Don’t be preposterous.

Gray Market, despite its size, has reasonable prices, too. As a result, I don’t feel like I’m being ripped off because I prefer a small store to a big box. This makes me more loyal to the independent owner and manager because they are doing their best to keep prices in line with bigger retailers.

I also like Gray Market for its support of the community. Near the end of every winter, the signboard along Route 100 encourages passersby with sentiments like “Welcome spring.” When Gray-New Gloucester High School teams are in the running for a championship, Gray Market cheers them on with “Go G-NG” on the sign. Over the years, the market has sponsored local Gray Rec sports teams, too. In these and other ways, Gray Market is intentional in promoting community pride.

Who knew how important a small grocery store could be? Gray Market is doing its best to fight the increasingly generic and impersonal consumer culture, and this shopper thanks them for it.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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