Remembering CRAAP…

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Remembering CRAAP…

Originally an ad hoc group of exasperated area shoppers-briefly-turned-activists, the Commit­tee to Retaliate Against A&P was formed in Joanna Ferraro-Levy's Beach Road living room in the mid-'80s. Not-quite-under-the-heading of "Now it can be told," it was Mrs. Levy, Dot Berdinka, Kay Frankfurt, myself in my "Waldo" guise, and others whose identities escape me at the moment. We assembled late one Sun­day morn­ing chez Levy to peruse the A&P flyer stuffed into that day's Newsday, and make out four identical shopping lists of mostly Sale items so we could dash off to the chain's stores in Southampton, Riverhead, Mattituck and, of course, locally.

The object was to ascertain whether the prob­lems we were all experiencing with A&P were systemic, or isolated to the Sunset Avenue store. While a comparison of notes at the end of the afternoon revealed numerous problems each "stealth shopper" had come across… sale items out-of-stock on the first day of the week-long sale period, price discrepancies between those listed on the flyer and what was rung on the register, etc.… the complaints weighed heaviest at the Westhampton Beach location. (The New Jersey home office in­sist­ed on identifying this as "West Hampton"{sic} despite numerous requests to the store man­ager, visiting "suits" for various in-store promotions. and by letter to Montvale, NJ.)

"Waldo" reported on the findings, and noted that one of the biggest problems with the West­hampton Beach location was that when one wanted to lodge a complaint with the Store Manager, it was often necessary to head across Sunset Avenue and address him in the tap room of the bowling alley!

Understandably, this did not sit well with the Store Manager; he respond­ed by removing every copy of that week's Hampton Chronicle-News from his shelves. When the route man picked up all but seven issues during the following week's delivery and Publisher Donald H. Louchheim learned of this, his con­ver­sa­tion with the Store Manager caused the Aisle Five freezers to defrost!
Under threat of a First Amendment-based legal action and a full report of the man's actions to Corporate HQ, the revenue for the loss of the news­stand sales was made up out of the Store Manager's own pocket, and he agreed to never pull a stunt like that again, whatever the provocation! Not a word was ever said to the col­umn­ist, and I only found out about it later from Henry, the route driver.

In time the A&P chain on Long Island changed its identity to that of Waldbaum's, but things never improved on Sunset Avenue, whether it was the appearance of "Lake A&P" in the park­ing lot after a sizable rain fall, or the cleanli­ness of the facility (especially in the Produce section… more than one fellow shopper has verbalized their displeasure with the smell of the decaying matter), or the freshness of the dairy products… we've lost count of the num­ber of times skim milk and even cottage cheese has had to be returned days before the "Sell By" date.

How bad is it? M'daughter, the cele­brated, world-traveling Chef-a-go-go with an extensive knowledge of super markets and specialty food ven­dors everywhere there's a concert venue, has long counted the Sunset Avenue location as "the second worst super market in the United States!" ("Yes," she says, "there's a Piggly Wiggly out­side of Dallas that's actually worse!")

Little known outside of Village Hall is the fact that in the mid-'90s there was a plan afoot for Waldbaum's to construct a brand new "Super Store" facility on a certain parcel between the roads of Depot and Old Riverhead, which would have addressed a number of problems with the existing "midtown" location, but there was a change in Administrations, and the Wilenski-Pescod-Czachur crew was so certain that there was something, if not actually "corrupt" then at least unseemly about the application, that the municipality became unalterably hostile to the project. ("We can't take a major store like that out of the center of the Village," one said at the time.

Then, several years ago, Corporate Wald­baum's, still of the opinion that expansion was needed in Westhampton Beach, announced future plans to expand the super market into the space oc­cu­pied by National, and the only "variety store" in the area immediately re­sponded with an "O, yeah? Watch this!" and closed their doors in a matter of weeks.

National's was not one of my fre­quent stops, but the voices raised even to­day at the loss of the store are legion, and engendered un­dy­ing enmity to­ward Wald­baum's in the hearts of many locals!

And therein rests another problem… National's space is still vacant three years later. Had the suits in Montvale had a modicum of sense, they'd've fast-tracked that expansion just so that locals wouldn't be so readily reminded of what had been lost to them! First Sexton's (by Swezey-Newins out of Brown's) and then National's… where could one get embroidery thread or canning jars?

Sure, the suits came from New Jersey in 2004 and started an application with the Planning Board, but when a succession of hired guns with various engineering titles were brought in to explain to the Village why it wasn't really necessary to re-do the entire parking lot, Kurt Hofmann, Barbara Ramsay, Vic Levy, Bill Ciraco and Sundy Schermeyer respectfully snorted and told the applicants that it was either all or take a hike!

There were a lot of other interesting little anec­dotes related to the on-going application, from the store management's inability/refusal (check one) to control how their suppliers parked their trucks while making deliveries, to a positively bizarre Memorial Day barbecuing promotion with open flames beneath the store's overhang… for the first time in memory, Wald­baum's was getting called on most of its more egregious behavior, and it took them a little while to catch on to the fact that the small town honeymoon was over!

As an oft-frustrated 11-year member of the Village's ZBA, it's been refresh­ing to see the various municipal en­forcement apparatuses… the Police, the Fire Marshals, the Building In­spector and the Code Enforcement Officer… pay some attention to that location.

For its part, Waldbaum's appointed a new manager four plus years ago, and, given her mostly seasonal staffing pool she's done a decent job of improving the existing store… the frozen food display cases still spon­tan­eously defrost/refreeze on an erratic schedule so that one has to prod the packaging for signs of this phenomena, and dairy sometimes spoils before its time… but the lady still seems to make an effort to keep on top of things.

But what it hasn't done is start work on the Sunset Avenue site after receiving their hard-fought approvals from the Village, so there's no expanded super market, the convenient National Store is still gone, and only King Kul­len's curious machinations in Hampton Bays have kept the Westhampton Beach Wald­baum's customer base reasonably captive. (I don't mind the King Kullen in Eastport all that much, but then I may be in a minority on that score.)

So I don't know what a group like CRAAP could accomplish today with Waldbaum's apparent corporate indifference, but every once in a while, I muse on forming a caravan and head­ing to Montvale, New Jersey to occupy their headquarters, shake'em up a little bit.


1. Clamqueen said...

I'll go along for that ride. Waldbaums Sucks! I can't tell you how much rotten chicken I've returned to that store. O, don't get me started, Dean!!

2. Hampton Mom said...

Maybe the National can be the temporary library? That is if the asbestos is gone. Better than a trailer.

My compliments, HamptonMom! Now all you have to do is "sell" this idea to the Directors of the Westhampton Free Library and those odds and sods in Noo Joisy!
Seriously, it's an idea which has merit!

3. Jaybeecpa said...

Has anybody addressed the fact that the sale prices on items for Waldbaum's are not honored here unless you bring the specific circular from west of WHB?

No, I was not aware of that. Glad you pointed it out.

4. Tugboat Bertha said...

The word I heard is that the Westhampton Free Library is going to rent Oak Gentry's lot on Library Avenue, the parcel where Raynor's Garage used to be. They will put trailers on it for the duration of the building project. Can you imagine the gridlock on Library Avenue in the Summer when the patrons of Dean's veggie stand and the Library patrons are all vying for parking?

The mind boggles!

5. Clem Samuels said...

Yes, keep up the good work - Clem Samuels

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