Call it denial, but I refused to believe all the bad stuff I'd heard about Balducci's (the Sixth Avenue @ 9th St. edition), which began several months ago in the NY TIMES.
I was quite a frequent visitor to the store over the years, but for the last three months, I hadn't been, mostly because the new Garden of Eden on 14th just east of Fifth more than met my Balducci needs, and it's far more conveniently located (I live a few blocks south of Union Square).
Welp, today I tooled over to Balducci's to get some fresh foie gras for my honey and I to devour on Valentine's Day. It was a heartbreaking experience. Something depressing has taken hold of the atmosphere. There's a dingy affect, customers look anxious and demoralized, the "salumneria" now resembles a Food Emporium deli counter (ugh), and a lot of the cheese is pre-cut and wrapped in plastic. Worse, the entire seafood area on the north side of the store really smelled bad, which means only one thing: They're getting very sloppy. The breads looked okay. The vegetables: C+. Fruits: B+. The only area that seemed unaffected (thank God) is the butcher corner.
Those of us who have watched food purveyors decline well know what a slippery slope down it is. R.I.P., Balducci's. . . .
Right afterward, I zipped over to Eden, where the precise opposite prevailed. There are only two problems: It's actually overstaffed--you constantly have to move out of the way of people stocking shelves. And it's occasionally overpriced. But that doesn't stop decidedly yuppie throngs from clogging the place. No matter: It's a great store. It reminds me of the OLD Balducci's of, say 20 years ago.
By the by, if you visit Eden and are cheesing it, ask for Hassad. He's a real prince and knows his cheese!