Monday, February 28, 2011

Grand opening event

We’ve been watching with anticipation the building of a new grocery store called Ababio Express just north of the stadium.  It’s situated in a brand-new building full of various small stores next to one of the Ecobank locations, or as written on their shopping bag, “New Amakom, City Style Building, near Baba Yara Sports Stadium”.   [Editor’s note: New Amakom is the road name, but describing something as near the stadium is more helpful to the average Ghanaian.]  Over the past couple months the building has taken on the attributes one would expect of a Western-style grocery store: plate glass windows, long fluorescent lights, shelving and refrigerated cabinets.  Saturday night, Nela needed to make a trip to the ATM at Ecobank, which took us right past the store.  For the first time, there were lights on and people moving about in the store.  The arch of balloons above the door made Nela realize that they must have opened yesterday.  Looking through the window, we saw a young man take a picture of himself with the shelves in the background, which confirmed our thoughts on the newness of the store.  The entrance said closed, but there were people going in through the exit, so we made our way inside.

After walking in the out door, we were quickly greeted by a store associate who asked if we would like to see the store.  This young woman then proceeded to take us on our first-ever guided tour of a grocery store.  We started in the snack and breakfast aisles, followed by the imported cooking oils, such as Italian olive oil.  Nela tried to find some Spanish olive oil but had no luck.  The cheese case had a decent variety of imported cheeses, including a concrete-block-sized brick of mozzarella cheese. 

But the first floor was only the beginning.  She led us into the lower story of the building where there was a very well-stocked wine and alcohol section.  I was impressed by the volume and variety of wines, although my rum-drinking friends at home would be sad to know that Captain Morgan’s Black Jamaica Rum was the only rum I saw.  It’s the largest collection of wines and hard liquor I’ve seen outside of the high-end, Western-friendly Koala supermarket in Accra.  There was also a wide range of personal care products, with familiar brands like Dove making a strong showing.

"Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine"
Upon finishing our tour, we told the young woman that we wanted to look around a bit more.  She graciously said her good-bye and probably went to find someone else to show around.  Nela and Liz and I looked at each other and laughed at the sheer craziness of going on a guided tour through a supermarket.  I thought about asking the woman if I could take her picture, but that seemed a bit too touristy even for me.  The woman obviously lived the Ababio Express mission statement, which includes lines such as “We believe in showing respect to all who walk into our market” and “We guarantee the most exciting shopping experience”.  A guided tour is definitely more exciting than my average grocery shopping experience.

Local brands, like the sugar
On our way back through the upstairs section, I saw a canister of Ovaltine, just like Little Orphan Annie was hawking in “A Christmas Story”.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any bread, the main thing that Nela needed, but they did have juice boxes of Ribena, one of my favorite juices (made from blackcurrants and typically not available in the US).  They also had proof that this a country that was a former British colony, given that the name for the sugar shown in this picture would probably not sell all that well anyplace that the Americans colonized or visited first.  Even though this was a fancy new supermarket, they still sell eggs by the flat, like they do at all the little shops outside.

Eggs in large quantities
We took our items to the register to check out.  They had a fancy new bar-code scanner and computer system like in the Melcom, the store that is Ghana’s answer to Wal-mart, but since the store was so new, most of the items were not in the system.  Various associates had to run around the store to check on the prices.  Nela had wanted to buy a packet of cookies but they had no price on the shelf where they were.  She decided not to buy the cookies, at which point the check-out girl tried to interest her in the other cookies on the shelf that did have prices on them.  Given the check-out girl’s persistence in trying to convince Nela that she wanted a different pack of cookies, the girl definitely has a career ahead of her in used car sales or a major evangelical megachurch if she is so inclined. 

Opening-day issues also included a lack of correct change.  The two checkout girls had to ask a number of customers to change bills for them, including asking me to give them two 1-cedi bills for a 2-cedi bill.  I also ended up paying 10 pesewas less than I should have since they didn’t have any small coins.  We were warmly bid goodbye and headed on our way home.  Since the store is only a ten-minute walk from home, I’m sure that I will become a regular customer in the two short months I have left in Ghana. 

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