Remember Miracle Market? The kosher supermarket that was open for just a few years in the ’90s? It was owned by the children of landsleit from my zaydie’s shtetl. My parents always remained friendly with them, and I vividly remember them joking around. My father once pitched them an idea for a advertising slogan: “Miracle Market: If It’s a Good Kosher Supermarket: It’s a Miracle.” Obviously they didn’t use it, but there’s a reason everybody laughed.
Like any monopoly that wants to stay a monopoly, Seven Mile Market has never lacked anything anybody needs, yet never given you anything above and beyond what you need. The quality has always been “good enough,” but there’s a reason most Conservative Jews do most of their shopping at Giant; and if you want to make Pikesville women of a certain age weep with nostalgia, just mention the name “Shapiro’s.”
You have to hand it to Seven Mile Market, its new store is an historic monument of modern Judaism, as magnificent in its hubris as Xanadu. It’s easily the largest kosher supermarket in America. I even bring goyisher friends to appreciate its magnificence.
There’s no reason good enough to build a Wal-Mart-sized kosher supermarket. The only reason is to declare “I am Seven Mile, kashrus of kashrus, look on my varnishkes, ye mashgichim, and despair.” Not that there’s anything improper about the kashrut, though my father claimed to have caused a near riot 20 years ago by pointing out that all separating a fleishig display from a milchig was a thin piece of paper.
Like all monopolies, its hubris grew much too big. For 30 years, it bested every competitor. Every time a challenger comes along, people complain that Seven Mile uses that moment to slash prices, then hike them back up once it has a monopoly again. It never seems to occur to them that two moderately sized supermarkets who compete on quality over quantity would be beneficial to all Jews and earn them the good will and admiration they’ve always found so lacking. Has a monopoly really made the owners that much more money? Did it really give them that much less tzuris?
So here, finally, comes Seasons, an even bigger and more faceless corporation than Seven Mile Market. Seven Mile’s new challenger is the kind of chain that Seven Mile probably aspires to be. Seasons has other stores, other sources of income, they can slash prices toe-to-toe. Kosher food is about to get very cheap. If Seven Mile built a huge store with few customers, they’d be hoisted on their own p’tcha. Keep going to Seven Mile; if Seasons wins, Seasons will be worse. But the moment Seasons leaves and a new local competitor arises, don’t go to Seven Mile until it improves.
Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at podomatic.com/podcasts/oldnewland.