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Fairway in Plainview, curiouser and curiouser (very long)

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Fairway in Plainview, curiouser and curiouser (very long)

Peter Hirdt | Sep 3, 2001 12:40 PM

About a month ago, I reported on a number of problems I’d encountered at the new Fairway market in Plainview, N.Y. Since I posted a rave here for the market when it opened last spring, I felt a responsibility to alert you all that a number of problems had cropped up.

(If you’re interested in the history, see my original posting, dated May 25 in response to Richard Halpern’s “My Fairway (Plainview) Visit” on May 3; and my responses on July 27 to Jim Leff’s “Long Island Fairway: Cheese Caution!”)

I made two visits to Fairway this weekend. Unfortunately I must report that things have gotten even uglier.

On Sunday, I went to Fairway hoping to buy some “colossal” shrimp and some bison steaks for an afternoon BBQ. These were two items that I had found in the past at Fairway, and which I felt comfortable I could find there again. A couple months ago, with a large on-site display, the store announced that it would be carrying fresh bison. And for a super premium price of $19.99 per pound, Fairway had regularly been selling shrimp that weighed approximately 3.5 ounces per piece--accurately listed on their labels as 4-6 per pound, and outstanding for butterflied shrimp on the grill.

Yesterday, there was no bison, except for some third-party pre-packaged bison burgers, with the package weight curiously covered by a Fairway label. (Anyone know if that runs afoul of consumer packaging regulations?) At least there was a good explanation: The meat manager explained that he wants only fresh bison steaks, requiring special same-day delivery to New York, and that the shipment that arrived earlier in the week was rejected because of concerns over the in-transit temperature. It’s hard to find fault with that. Things happen, and the manager acted responsibly in rejecting the meat.

But what I found at the fish counter was amazing. Selling for the super-premium price usually reserved for shrimp of 3-4 ounces were shrimp less than half that size. I asked for nine shrimp, expecting the total weight to be about two pounds. I was handed a bag so small that I immediately looked at the weight: 0.78 pounds. I looked more closely at the shrimp and realized that these were not what had previously been selling as “colossal” shrimp. Not even close. As an explanation and justification, the salesman explained that these were the largest shrimp they had. Oh.

The department manager wasn’t there, so I spoke to the store manager. As soon as he realized that his fish department was selling these smaller pieces for the premium price reserved for colossal shrimp more than twice their size, he pulled the price card and apologized, admitting that this was an error that should not have occurred. His words to an assistant manager, in part: “He’s right, there’s no excuse for that.”

Well, guess what? Upon my return today (Monday), the same smaller shrimp were once again being advertised as “colossal” and sold for $19.99 per pound! The salesman whispered to another man behind the counter, whom I assume is the department manager, that I was “the colossal guy.” Proud of my new handle, I introduced myself and asked why he was once again selling smaller shrimp for a price previously reserved for pieces more than twice that size. His explanation: “I’ll price ‘em how I want. If you don’t want to buy ‘em, don’t buy ‘em.” Yeesh. I lived in New York City nearly my whole life, but rarely have I more acutely sensed that I’d walked onto a “Seinfeld” set. (“No shrimp for you!!!”) He also said that the decision to price them at $19.99 was made by the same manager who yesterday admitted to me that that pricing had been an inexcusable mistake.

I found that manager, and today he was nearly as belligerent as the fish manager. He said that the price was based on Fairway's cost, and that if I didn’t want the shrimp at that price, I shouldn’t buy them. OK, then. Well, at least everyone’s got their story straight.

Finally, when I went to check out, there were four registers open, with lines of at least four customers at each one. There was no express lane open, even though many customers on line had only a few items. I waited nearly 15 minutes to check out with five items.

This is truly a sad situation for area foodies. A Fairway market would provide tremendous value if functioning well. It has product that’s difficult to find elsewhere and a number of items that enable a home cook short on time to use Fairway as his or her sous chef. But given what I’ve seen, including the continued declines in service, pricing, quality, and attitude, I no longer think the market is worth patronizing. No one wants to shop where they feel taken advantage of, or where they wonder what indignity or problem they will encounter each time they enter the store. For the past several months, that’s the way Fairway in Plainview has felt to me, and my apprehension has rarely been misplaced.

I will check back again in a month or two to update my report. I’d also be anxious to hear what experiences others have had there recently--both good and bad.

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