I would like to share a distressing situation that exists in California’s Orange County, or at least in the cities of Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, and perhaps is even more widespread than I first thought, which is why I’m writing and sharing with you.

I have lived in Fountain Valley for 23 years. There are stores in at least three grocery chains in the Fountain Valley/Huntington Beach area that appear to have no consideration for the elderly and/or infirm. Perhaps they have little consideration for their customer base in general. Let me explain.

It is possible to enter an Albertsons (Brookhurst and Edinger), Smart & Final (Magnolia and Warner), or Vons (Beach and Edinger) market in the above-mentioned areas on any given day, and observe employees who expectantly stand back and wait for their customers to start bagging their own groceries and then load them into their carts. These are presumably the same employees who have previously, on more than one occasion, gone on strike for better pay and benefits.

While I am certainly in favor of good wages and benefits for all workers, I am also in favor of said workers earning those wages and benefits by performing the work associated with the job for which they have been hired.

Last October, while waiting in the checkout line at Smart & Final, I noticed a lady who appeared to be in her 80’s, bagging her own groceries and then lifting the heavy bags into her cart. I looked around and saw the same scenario playing out in the other checkout lines. Somewhat confused, I asked the cashier, a woman who looked to be in her 20’s or early 30’s, if Smart & Final’s customers were expected to bag their own groceries and lift them into their carts. Her response, much to my dismay, was “Our customers like bagging their own groceries.” I said nothing and began to bag my groceries, at which point, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, the cashier said, “Let me get that for you… I wouldn’t want you to hurt your elbow.” I was shocked that a store employee would show such disdain for her store’s customers. I continued loading my groceries into the cart and left the store.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. I have observed similar situations play out at Albertsons and Vons as well… lazy cashiers, few if any baggers, with customers bagging and loading their own groceries.

Undaunted, I naively presumed this problem existed only because store management must be unaware of the situation. I truly felt this deplorable situation could easily be remedied by simply bringing the matter to the attention of management. Accordingly, I contacted Matt, the store manager at Smart & Final, and Gary, the store manager at Albertsons, and explained my concerns. In both cases, I received what appeared to be a sincere apology and was assured the situation would promptly be addressed.

Imagine then my surprise when I visited Albertsons on November 23rd, at approximately 6:00 PM on a busy Thanksgiving eve and, as I waited in line for 30 minutes, observed that nothing had changed. Customers, both young and old, were still bagging their own groceries and loading them into their carts, including an elderly couple who obviously struggled with the task. At this very same time, a number of store employees were casually strolling about the front of the store, doing nothing to help customers.

After paying for and bagging my own groceries, I approached the store shift manager, Mike, who was standing behind the front counter watching it all. I voiced my disappointment and concern to Mike, who calmly replied, “It’s the holidays; we’re always busy at this time of the year.” I responded that this was not accurate, and that I could come to the store any day of the week and find the same situation. Mike rudely replied, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

I fail to understand how these stores can charge full-service prices while performing less service than self-service stores that offer better pricing. For example, customers bag their own groceries at Aldi, but Aldi makes that fact known well in advance, and Aldi provides a long counter, conveniently located away from the checkout lanes, where customers can take their time and transfer their groceries into their own bags at their own pace. Aldi treats their customers decently and offers excellent value in their pricing.

Trader Joe’s offers good pricing and their unfailingly polite cashiers always bag their customers’ groceries. Even the premier big box store, Costco, asks their customers if they would like their groceries boxed. If so, the groceries are loaded into boxes in the customers’ carts. For Pete’s sake, even Walmart bags the customers’ groceries! Why then are we paying higher prices and receiving substandard service at so-called full service grocery stores?

I have to wonder how many of the customers bagging their own groceries at these “full-service” stores are doing so while recovering from an illness or a surgery, or perhaps a chronic condition. Not all of us who look like we’re 100% really are functioning at 100%. Many people endure in silence rather than bare their personal physical issues in public. This just shouldn’t be happening.