By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re planning your first visit to Quartzsite, or perhaps are already there, it may take a little time to “get the lay of the land.” Quartzsite is definitely an “original,” and it is decidedly a small town – despite the fact that during the height of the season you’ll think you’re in the middle of an LA traffic jam. But speaking of jam, where do you get it? Jam, that is, or for that matter, any other of your needed groceries? We’ll try and sort out the offerings in and near Quartzsite.
Quartzsite has but three “regular” grocery stores, that is, more or less permanently moored sticks and bricks retailers. Each has its own look and feel. Starting at the east end of town and moving west, they are:
General Store: Perhaps the longest-lived grocery in all of town, the General Store is a relatively small retailer. A fair variety of common grocery items are available. The dairy case rarely runs out, the bread can get a little thin at the height of the season. When it comes to produce, well, there is generally a limited supply of produce, but don’t expect high quality in terms of freshness, nor a big selection. Perhaps the General Store’s claim to fame is the meat department. Much of the offerings here are cut “in store,” and the butcher will be happy to assist you with selections and even in portion sizes. Years back it was really the only sensible place to buy meat; prices (like everywhere) have inched up, but look for specials. A small hot deli will provide you with necessary “grab and go grub.” On the B-10 (Main Street) just west of Quartzsite’s “shopping center,” Beals and the Dollar Store.
Roadrunner: The management at the Roadrunner have pushed hard to make their establishment “the place” to shop. They’ve expanded overall floor space to add greater selections in their cold cases, and have a pretty fair selection of produce, undoubtedly the largest in town. Produce prices tend to be all over the map, leaning toward a little high, compared to larger city prices. Dairy and bread are generally always available; they are trying to make a big claim in the meat department, having their own “in store” butcher. Compare their prices and quality to the General Store and you’ll have to make up your own mind. All in all, Roadrunner probably has the largest offering of general grocery items of anyone in town. You’ll find them a couple of blocks east of Highway 95.
Big Market: Despite its name, and the fact that the building is fairly large, the Big Market doesn’t really have a big selection of groceries, per se. If your thirst takes you out for beer, well, then you’ll find many feet of cold ale just awaiting your selection. Looking for hardware on Sunday when Herb’s Hardware is closed? Well, your choice is the Big Market, where nearly half the floor space is taken up with hardware-like supplies. What about fresh meat and produce? Look elsewhere, pardner – it ain’t happening here. And if your moral values tend to cause you to avoid looking at salacious materials, well, DO NOT take a right turn as you head in the door. A large rack of slick magazines, catering to more prurient interests, lies to the right of the door, and the covers are not stashed behind plain wrappers. Big Market is on the south side of Main Street, close to the west end of town.
Alternative shopping in Q: If you’re looking for milk, eggs and bread, check out Dollar General on Main Street, a couple blocks west of the Big Market. Gallons of moo are less than $2, and if you hurry, you’ll find all three grades of cow nectar. Egg quantities are limited to keep dealers from buying and reselling this low-priced hen-fruit.
Of course, each season “dent tents” rise up all over the countryside, selling dented cans, and past-pull-date cereals. Buyer beware here: We’ve found in many cases mashed cans for sale in some of these establishments that could be purchased for less money – and without dents – at Walmart. If you’ve got plenty of time and a feel for good prices, dig away!
Or head out of town: If you don’t mind putting a few miles on your odometer, chugging into Blythe or Parker will lead you to a wider selection of groceries, and lower prices.
Blythe Albertsons was until just recently the “big gorilla” of grocery stores. They have the typical selection of groceries of all varieties of any big city grocery store, but with a twist. We’ve run into folks who’ve come into Blythe from, say, the Los Angeles area, carrying their current Albertsons store fliers. Once in the Blythe store they’ve been downright upset that the “sale” prices from the flier were less than the “sale” prices in the Blythe store. Locals tell us that’s particularly so at the height of the season. From our perspective, prices in the Blythe store are higher than the proverbial cat’s back. And if you’ve a sensitive nose, beware the “fresh fish market” at the back of the store. ‘Nuf said.
Smart & Final in Blythe is now really giving old Joe Albertson a run for his money. After years of operating out of a tiny joint in the backwoods of the north end of town “Fart and Smile” (as the kids snickeringly call the place) rolled open the doors to their HUGE market at the corner of 7th and Hobson Way – just kitty-corner to the Albertsons venue. Call me a little nasty, I had to giggle when I saw their new location. It’s a BIG store, and has a huge selection. The outfit carries a wide selection of grocery items; their produce department puts Albertsons to shame, and while no in-house meat cutting, the prices on carnivore-delight are decidedly better than Albertsons. Don’t be put off by the thought that Smart and Final is somewhat akin to a wholesale supplier. While they do have “club” sizes, they also have plenty of the same stuff in packages that are sized to accommodate the small living (and storage) space of RVers. Look for “manager specials” that aren’t in their sales fliers. We spotted packs of chicken breast with rib meat for less than 40 cents a pound.
Walmart up in Parker is labeled a “Super Center,” but, hey, I think it must have been around for an episode of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Typical Walmart prices of groceries, and a fair selection thereof. The produce department runs on a par lower than your average Walmart store – if you could even believe that possible. Sorry, but this is one of those Walmart stores where management needs to have its stern-quarters kicked. Look to see empty shelves here and there, and don’t expect to find a particularly helpful attitude. You may spend more money but find greater selection across the street at …
Safeway: Most decidedly a better selection of products than most small-town stores but, of course, you’ll pay for it. Still, the prices at the Parker Safeway seem to look about the same as Safeways elsewhere, rather than taking on a “captive audience” mentality. If you’ve shopped Safeway regularly, though, you probably know that since Albertsons bought out the chain the prices have crept up a bit.
Bashas’ also had a presence in Parker. Within the last year they’ve relabeled themselves as Food City. That’s a lower-tier cousin in the company line-up. To make sure you really knew it, they ripped up the tiled floors and give you concrete to walk in. Seriously, this was their idea of a “remodel.” Their produce department, albeit small, does have the occasional good find, but not as good as when they wore the Bashas’ banner. Still, it might be worth a one-time look-see to figure out if you want to make the store a stopover.
Big city run? For our money, once a month we pack up for the day and head over to metro Phoenix. Our typical stops include Costco (plenty of these in the area), a specialty hardware run to Lowe’s or Home Depot, and a couple of hours in Winco.
On this latter, if you haven’t made acquaintance with this employee-owned grocery store, well, you’re in for a surprise. Acres and acres of pretty much lower prices than most everybody else, and if you can’t find it, surprise! Just ask any employee and expect to be treated with genuine concern and friendliness. Their bulk food area is terrific, and you can buy just the amount you need – with really good prices. Ha! We used to crow about the meat prices at Costco, and for some items, they’re still the King. But if it comes to ground beef, you’ll find less-fat-percentage hamburger for less money than you’ll spend getting a big bunch from the freezer over at Costco.