Alexis Karolides works for the Rocky Mountain Institute, which from its photos looks like a ski chalet on the side of the Rocky Mountains. Its address is Snowmass Creek Road in Snowmass, CO.

From that idyllic perch, she has some visions of what a supermarket should be like, and she shared those ideas at the most recent Food Marketing Institute Energy and Technical Services Conference in Cleveland, OH.

She’d like stores located near downtown areas so that it is easy for more folks to walk to those stores. If not that, then certainly near public transportation, to cut down on the use of cars. She’d like access for such alternative transportation as bikes — and that means stores should provide bike racks and (for bike-riding employees) “showers with efficient shower heads.” And instead of those massive parking lots of pavement, she would like to see stores with green spaces of grass and trees.

Today’s Stores

In the city of 100,000 where I live, there are still a half dozen supermarkets, which — while not that near the downtown — can be reached by bus (until 7:00 p.m., six days a week) and by bicycle (fairly safely). There are bike racks. (I don’t know about the showers.) Green spaces around the stores are sparse, but can still be found.

But just down a multi-lane highway heading south out of town, the latest generation of supermarkets can be found. They are huge, state-of-the-art structures, filled with foodstuffs and dry goods, with fast-food services and banks within the stores. Each has a convenience/gas station. Each is a 24/7 operation.

Few people can walk to such stores and there is no public transportation nearby. Therefore, the parking lots are massive, with little greenery to be seen anywhere (except in the large floral sections within the stores).

This particular approach to supermarkets is being repeated up and down this major highway as more and more subdivisions go in, and more and more strip malls are built to provide services to those subdivisions. If subdivisions are going in where public transportation and bike paths don’t exist, then the newest stores will not be near bus routes and bike paths.

It would appear the supermarket industry in the United States is moving farther and farther from Alexis Karolides’ vision.

One reason may be summed up by another speaker at the conference, engineer Clive Samuels, who noted that the goal of supermarkets is to sell products and make a profit. Stores are doing energy conservation, he said, because in the end those efforts will cut costs while still allowing products to move — thus increasing profits. Alexis Karolides’ ideas appear to add to costs, and thus cut into profits.

You do the math.

Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 12/03/2001