Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Mr. Winegar?

I'm convinced that 95% of kids who grew up in south Davis County in the 1990's either wound up working at the Lagoon amusement park or Dick's Market, a small-town grocery in Centerville. Halfway through my junior year at Viewmont High School I joined the latter group, and for the next 21 months I strapped on a red apron for twenty hours a week, starting at the bargain-basement rate of $3.65 an hour.

It was a love-hate relationship.

On the one hand, bagging groceries was everything you would expect from a job at the age of sixteen: weekend-killing hours, sub-minimum wage pay, and the general sense that you were cut out for better things even though you didn't have an ounce of legitimate work experience.

At the same time, several of my longest and most cherished friendships were born in the crucible that was Dick's Market. Even if we weren't suffering as much as we liked to think, those long hours of bagging groceries and coming up with creative ways to avoid bagging groceries led to a camaraderie that has lasted for years after we stopped strapping on those dumb aprons.

Love it or hate it, Dick's Market was a culture unto itself, complete with class divisions, rivalries, romances, and its own distinct vernacular. We had our own basketball league (DMBA), led by our sport-goggled manager Craig Meads, that met to do battle on holiday mornings when the store was closed, where I channeled my pro-basketball dreams with guys like Mark Farmer and the Mikkelsen and Peterson brothers. We had the annual bagging contest, won by people who worked a lot harder at their job than I did. We had the case lot sale, Lagoon Day, and over everything, we had the myth of the big man himself, Dick Winegar, who I never actually saw in the flesh.

Dick's was an institution, and just over a week ago that institution pulled up its stakes and moved north.

By the time my parents moved to Bountiful when I was four, Dick's Market had already anchored the east end of Pages Lane for thirteen years, only a block from my house. The proximity offered easy access for my dad, who is legally blind and can't drive, and for the residents of the nearby Meadows, a retirement complex that sent a procession of little old ladies scampering back and forth along 400 east as they made the trek to Dick's for their groceries. It was a far cry from those urban neighborhoods where you could live your whole life within 100 yards of your front door, but Dick's was still the classic neighborhood grocery store. Working there almost felt like a rite of passage.

On July 18th, Dick's relocated a couple of miles up the road to Parrish Lane, taking over for the Fresh Market that was owned by the same parent company (Dick's was purchased by the Associated Foods chain back in 2002). While I don't know the exact circumstances, I've heard that ownership was unable to make the necessary expansions to the Pages Lane building to keep it competitive. Of course, now it gets to compete with the Target and Wal-Mart across the street.

Either way, Dick's is gone. Vacated for slightly more spacious pastures. Cleared out of the building that served as the backdrop for my high school years. Cleared out of the aisles where Justin Knighton and Heather Hayward met as baggers and left as man and wife. Cleared out of the front end of the store where Ben Stoneman and I would lasso each other with imaginary disco ropes, not far from the check stands where I used to kill time talking with Mike Bohman and Emily Scharffs and Steve Nelson. Cleared out of the bakery where I'd wander over with Brian Smith to see the bakery chick with the eyes that made "Time of the Season" start playing in our heads. Cleared out of the dry ice bin where Bret Ostler introduced himself by offering to buy all my old Star Wars toys. I hated that job, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

It felt a little bit like a betrayal, but I stopped by the new store last weekend. Wal-Mart was out of Otter Pops, and well, when I want my Otter Pops, I want my Otter Pops. There were all kinds of welcome signs, and a few familiar faces (I don't know how they handled the staff overlap between Dick's and the old Fresh Market...do I want to know?). It looked OK, but it felt like the next step in a corporate progression that started long ago. The self-checkout stands were nice.

My best hope is that the remnants of the old Winegar's clan will decide to reopen the place as a non-Associated Foods entity. My biggest worry is that someone will try to turn it into another fitness center. Or just leave it empty, like so many of the properties along Pages Lane.

To capture the moment, I swung by the old building Monday night to take its picture with a camera that probably cost more than I made the entire time I worked there. The credit union is still open, and so is the Ace Hardware, so the kids from Bangerter's farm will still have a place to go blow their weekly wages on candy. Maybe there's still hope that someone will step in and fire up the burners at that once-famous bakery.

Just as long as they hire girls with pretty eyes.