While northern's California's corporate grocers stare at picket lines and empty aisles, mom-and-pop stores are enjoying a homecoming.
With a strike against Safeway in its sixth day Tuesday and dozens of other supermarkets locking out union workers, prodigal shoppers are returning to their neighborhood groceries in droves."This weekend it was like Thanksgiving. It was like Christmas," said Glenn Dalporto, an assistant manager at Grand Central in Pacific Heights who worked overtime during the first four days of the strike. "No, you know what it was like? An earthquake.
"It was like everyone wanted to be the first one there, and get what's there because they don't know how long it would last."
About 16,000 United Food and Commercial Workers walked off the job Thursday at 208 Safeway supermarkets. In solidarity with their partner in contract talks, management locked out another 16,000 union workers Friday at 180 Lucky stores and 17 Save Mart stores.
The union wants a wage increase and continued health benefits. Employers say they can't afford a raise and have had to cut benefits because of competition from warehouse stores.
Many shoppers were either honoring the pickets or avoiding union workers lined up outside large supermarkets. Inside, the stores turned into struggling ecosystems of wilting lettuce and aging turkey thighs, deserted even by the homeless regulars.
The strike has increased sales 20 percent at the few neighborhood groceries that have withstood competition from the chains.
"How long do I want the strike to last? Forever," said Richard Moresco, who has owned the Grand Central in Pacific Heights for 20 years. "But if we could keep just 10 percent after the strike, it would be great."
Yet Ron Giambaoli, whose family has ran the Cal Mart grocery for 40 years, wouldn't mind if the newcomers stayed away. "You have the regular crowds of customers mixed in with customers who don't know where things are," Giambaoli said. "They clash."