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New grocery store has competitors scrambling

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Once upon a time I lived in one of those food deserts, a neighborhood served by only one grocery store, so I know a little of the kind of shopping tyranny created by the lack of competition.

I am now experiencing something quite different.

There are no fewer than four groceries within a short drive of my house, along with a Wal-Mart and Target. A Trader Joe’s set up shop down the road, and a Costco joined a BJ’s Wholesale Club. There are small ethnic groceries and big ones not far away. A pair of organic markets beckon east and west.

I’m even blessed with a neighborhood farmer’s market on Sundays.

There are so many options, so close, that I sometimes do my weekly shopping at multiple locations to snag the best deals.

Just when I thought the grocery scene could not grow any more crowded, along comes a Wegmans.

I now realize what I thought was competition was only an appetizer.

Even before the two-story, mega-store opened, prices at nearby rivals began falling precipitously. The coupon deals suddenly grew ever-more generous. Instead of discounts, one store just started giving away stuff, a gallon of ice cream here, a large pizza there. Others upped their service: Here, let us open a new checkout line for you. Can I help you with your bags, sir?

The preemptive moves did little to keep shoppers from Wegmans. The opening weekends have drawn so many that the Howard County police may have to set up a permanent substation to handle the traffic.

Perhaps the crowds are just curious. But it seems likely we will see a shake-out from Goliath’s arrival. How long before the myriad food stores start to consume themselves?

In a world of boom and busts, we are experiencing our feast.

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