Dick Move, Stew Leonard’s

Posted on
Apr 15, 2010

Okay, first, a few disclaimers: my friend Christine suggested we visit a grocery store called Stew Leonard’s while we were in New York. Christine is all kinds of lovely, and I trust her judgment completely (check out some of her brilliance). Sadly, we didn’t have the sort of visit I (nor Christine, I suspect) would have hoped for. Nevertheless, I’m completely glad we made the trip there: it was fun and surreal. Plus, how could I not go to a place that’s been described as “The Disneyland of Dairy” in The New York Times? And while things didn’t exactly go as planned, I actually like it when it happens during travel. It usually makes for a good story. And let’s be brutally honest: sometimes Dick Moves! make for great stories.

Like Disneyland, Stew Leonard’s even has its own clearly marked exit off the freeway, and has a street named for it.

Yay! I love cow products!

Yay! I love cow products!

The front of Stew Leonard’s has a huge silo attached, which, in my over-imaginative brain, I pretended was full of chocolate covered gummi bears. At this point, it was safe to say that I was a little bit freakishly excited to be going grocery shopping. I love food. And dairy (even as I type this, I’m drinking chocolate milk. Because I am 8). (Note: this line previously said I was “a little bit freakishly exited to be going shopping” – an error pointed out by the obnoxiously brilliant motomotoyama. Damn her.)

ZOMG. Gummi bears.

ZOMG. Gummi bears.

As we marched in, I snapped a single photo of the inside of the store.


Uh, what? I’m always distracted when I’ve got my face pressed into my camera and someone starts yelling. Apparently one of the men who worked at the store was not happy.

“NO PICTURES!” he said again.

“I can’t take a photo of the inside of the store?” I asked.


“Um … how is that good for publicity?”




There wasn’t really an explanation of why. I suppose it might have been because the head of the company (Stew Leonard, Sr.) went to prison for tax fraud, and this has somehow made them weirdly paranoid. But the whole thing seemed hypocritical, at best: the moment you enter a Stew Leonard’s, you are recorded on surveillance cameras throughout the premises. It’s incredibly creepy. And a total Dick Move.

But still, rules are rules, right? And when someone tells me I can’t take a photo of a location, even if they haven’t give me a single reason why, well, there’s only one thing left for me to do …

Photograph the hell out of that place. (C’mon. You totally saw that coming, right?) And so I did. In the process, I uncovered a few things that made me again wonder why they didn’t want me taking photos …

Perhaps it was because of their blatant copyright infringement …

There is no way theyre using this with permission.

There is no way they're using this with permission.

Or their controversial selling of Communist food, like beets:

Featuring prominently in Russian cuisine, theyre bright red. RED!

Featuring prominently in Russian cuisine, they're bright red. RED!

Then there’s this display, featuring a talking, dancing banana. I don’t really know what to do about this. It might be culturally insensitive. Or maybe it’s just scary.

The big banana is basically ensuring banana-cannibalism.

The big banana is basically promoting banana-cannibalism.

As are these animatronic singing chickens, located just above freezer full of chicken patties:

Im not going to lie to you: I find this sort of irony DELIGHTFUL.

I'm not going to lie to you: I find this sort of irony DELIGHTFUL.

I suppose the singing cows were a little more tasteful, as they were located above the dairy case (as opposed to, say, the beef case):

It would be awesome to reprogram them to sing Usher.

It would be awesome to reprogram them to sing Usher.

But the sushi counter was a little messed up. I’ve no problem with sushi. I love the stuff. And the majority of sushi chefs I encounter are Japanese, which doesn’t seem terribly unusual. But at Stew Leonard’s, for reasons that seem kind of off, there sushi counter is the only place with its own soundtrack. It was something akin to this (warning: that video is LOUD). Rand was kind of weirded out by it.

He seemed kind of lonely.

He seemed kind of lonely.

Despite that I’m-not-sure-if-it’s-racist-but-it’s-still-kinda-weird display, it really was pretty cool, especially if you’re not a vegetarian. The store is huge, and has earned the distinguishing honor of  having “the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in the United States.” (If you’ve ever been to a Whole Foods on a Sunday, you understand how amazing that is). And they seem to have a really cool business philosophy, in theory.

What if the customer wants to take a photo? WHAT THEN?

What if the customer wants to take a photo? WHAT THEN?

As we drove away, I felt a bit guilty about all the photos I had taken. As you’ve probably noticed, most are blurry or crooked. They were taken from my hip, with me occasionally pressing the button on top of my camera. I was really upset about the whole “not being able to take photos” rule, but now I kind of felt like a heel.

I mean, sure, it’s a weird company policy, but the store did seem really cool. And even if it’s an unreasonable rule, it must be in place for a reason, right? I began to consider this idea, and I was almost willing to accept it, until I started looking around online. I found that a lot of people had taken photos inside of Stew Leonard’s. There are more than 700 images on Flickr alone. And judging by the quality of the pictures, they hadn’t done so surreptitiously.

ZUH? So their “no photo” policy applied to just me? Dick Move, Stew Leonard’s.

I suppose it could have been that the one employee who snapped at me was just off his rocker. I sent Stew Leonard’s a letter about the whole thing, but I still haven’t received a reply. I know only that if there is a rule against taking pictures, it must be justified. After all, the store clearly puts a lot of thought into everything they do.

Way to go, guys!

Way to go, guy's!

Well, sort of.

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