Willo? Weep For Me.

by Robrt L. Pela

There's this beautiful little grocery across the street from my house in downtown Phoenix where I go from time to time when I feel like being ignored by dark-haired 22-year-old men who’d rather be doing something other than working in a boutique-y market. I stop there when what I’m shopping for is thin air, because their shelves are always overflowing with it. (Although the store’s large, center kiosk is usually stacked with over-priced crackers and little berry baskets full of week-old cherry tomatoes, and the bakery cases are always filled with gorgeous pastries and tasty breads, which I suppose one will have to shoplift in order to enjoy, since the staff here is too busy sitting on the polished counters and talking on the phone to actually wait on customers).

It’s called Willo Grocery (534 West McDowell Road; 602-441-5450) and you can shop there, too—although I wouldn’t suggest doing so if what you’re after is something to eat. I’ve taken to buying my food at Safeway up the street, and stopping at Willo on my way home to pick up stories about crummy service to tell my dinner guests. The nice folks at Willo never let me down!

Some of my favorite after-dinner stories include the time I asked a Willo clerk if the store carried ginger root, and he made a hacking sound in the back of his throat, rolled his eyes, and said, “I don’t even know what that is,” as if being uninformed were the Blue Light Special at Willo that day. (It turned out they did sell ginger root, and because the young man didn’t know how much it was supposed to sell for, he sold it to me for 39 cents, which was quite a deal but also a huge waste, because it was a ginger root the size of my head, and one can only use so much ginger root before it, like most of the produce on sale at Willo, goes bad.)

Then there was the time I told the counter clerk that I wanted a Sunflower Loaf, please, and he, seated several feet away, replied, “We don’t sell that.” I pointed to the deep stack of Sunflower loaves leaning against a little sign clearly printed with the words “Sunflower Loaf,” and he shrugged and said, “Well, that’s not what I call it.”

The poor child nearly expired when I offered a credit card as payment for my loaf of bread; he didn’t know how to accept this sort of payment and wound up scribbling my credit card number on a scrap of paper. The charge has never appeared on my Visa bill, and thus far I haven’t had my identity stolen by a former grocery clerk, so I count this trip as a real success, especially since the story about it always gets a laugh from my dinner guests.

My visit today was less worthy of repeating, but I include it here as proof that, as the French say, "Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose." I’d heard that Willo was under new management and I, expecting a breakfast guest to whom I wanted to serve fresh pastries, dropped in at Willo to see if “new management” meant “responsible sales help who actually know what their shop carries and can ring it up for you.”

Surprise! It did not. I stood for a full ten minutes at the bakery counter, ogling pastries while the latest dark-haired counter clerk talked on the phone. After awhile it became a game: How long could I stand there without being acknowledged? There were no other customers (there never are, in this place). Bakery staff walked to and fro a few feet away, always glancing gloomily my way as they wandered past. Finally I admitted defeat and walked out. As I passed the newest counter clone (What is it about the boys who work in this store? Does the employment ad read, “Only lanky young brunettes need apply”?), he mumbled, “I’m taking a cake order.” Not, “I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you for ten minutes, but I have to take a cake order.” Just, “I’m taking a cake order,” as if he were a tiny child announcing a successful trip to the bathroom. I resisted the temptation to reply, “Aren’t we a big boy!” and just kept going.

My breakfast guest made do with packaged donuts from the Circle K across the street from Willo, but my story about the little boy with the cake order was a hit.

I’m glad, because it’s my last Willo Grocery story. I’ll never set foot in there again, and I’m going to tell everyone I know not to go there, either. My dinner guests will have to make do with stories about my most recent trip to Ohio, because I’m never going back to Willo. I dropped in this morning hoping to find something new, but all I got was the same old insolence and piles of nothing. The entire west wall of the store was lined with empty shelves; the Stoned Wheat Thins were priced like rubies, and the halfwit on the phone had clearly been hired because the place is owned by someone who’s more interested in slender cuties than he is in selling food. If I want to stare at baked goods in a glass case out of which nothing is for sale, I’ll go to the fucking State Fair.

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