The racks of energy drink powders next to the assorted packets of nuts next to the many varying brands of jerky form one link in a very small maze. The “line starts here” sign means to guide people, in an orderly fashion, to the next available register. It doesn’t work. Or, it doesn’t always work, as one or more shopper remember that they’ve forgotten an item and bolt backwards through the line to grab another case of Red Bull or some such thing.
It’s always Red Bull, never bread.
This is the closest store to my apartment, and as such, it frequently serves as a stopgap between “real” grocery shopping, which I do either at Kress IGA downtown or Uwajimaya. But if I say, am out of cold cereal, or orange juice, or cheese to make my beloved quesadillas, I’ll go down to Bartell’s. Not having a hot food counter, it by definition does not have all the components necessary to make a great convenience store.
It does, however, have a hangover.
I don’t mean that the employees are hungover, or that all the customers, or the very bored security guard. The store itself. It’s clean, it’s presentable, and it’s just a little off. People who I’ve grown to recognize because they also get emergency Corn Flakes at Bartell’s Drugs enter the store and get immediately disoriented. I’ve seen people standing, staring at rows of cheap cold medication before shaking their head, grabbing two cans of Spam and heading for the door, remembering they have to pay, and trying to enter the line from the wrong direction.
On a good day it’s slightly disorienting but not all bad, on a bad day it’s a shivery stare into the void. The void is not staring back, the void is buying discount sunglasses and taking selfies in the overhead mirrors near the milk.
The staff are not unpleasant, but they aren’t friendly. They don’t need to be. They stare at you with the same blank, getting-through-it, stares that my regulars do before they’ve had that first brunch mimosa. They know that even if they don’t currently have a headache, they will soon.
The customers are everyone; there isn’t just one type.
They’re people who ordinarily turn up their nose at cheap convenience, but as a local institution, Bartell’s is at least not Murder Mart.
They’re people who’ve just got off a light rail, possibly from the airport. Or a greyhound, possibly from Wenatchee. Or who live in the area, possibly in one of the many freshly built apartment buildings. Or who live in the area not any sort of building at all. They’re folks on their way to or from sporting events and need a cola. Folks who have the bare minimum amount of cash to get some protein they’ll eat at a nearby park.
Other Bartell’s aren’t like this. This is specific to the Jackson Street Bartell’s, nestled at one of the city’s busiest corners. Butted up between the edges of the ID, Pioneer Square, King Street Station, and the retail district, with all it’s customers coming off or heading into whatever those places mean for them.
Every time I go in, it takes just a little bit longer, everything moves just a bit slower and fuzzier, even when I’ve brought a list. The lights are too bright and the pop hits are too loud, but there’s no use complaining. I grab my bread and stand in line.