Upscale 'supers' tout lily root gooseberries and fancy price tags
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Grand Union's Food Market in Rockville is the one with the Tiffany-style stained-glass windows casting a reverential glow on the checkout counter. GU has hired the celebrated designer and illustrator Milton Glazer to advise on touches like that, as well as the colorful graphics that liven up the maple-paneled store, one of the upscale series Mr. Perino describes as ''a theater for food.''Skip to next paragraph
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Its new concept, called Food Centers, includes a large piazza in the center of the store for a 200-seat restaurant.
In contrast to this affluent approach, Grand Union, like some other supermarket chains, is also running a polarized operation on the other end, with 20 ''Basics Stores,'' no-frills warehouse shopping centers with generic foods at bargain-basement prices.
If that thundering economist Thorsten Veblen were still around denouncing ''conspicuous consumption,'' he'd blanch at all those supermarket carts piled high with 50 different kinds of pate (of which Safeway boasts). The California-based supermarket chain has been experimenting with trading up via its new Bon Appetit stores, bearing the magazine's logo on its shops and offering customers recipes for that month's gourmet dishes.
Some of its stores, still a small sprinkling in Safeway's nearly 2,000 supermarkets, have skylights and California decor (natural wood, plants, and country-kitchen touches) says Louis Gonzalez, public affairs manager for the San Francisco division.
For customers used to the standard meat, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce supermarket, gourmet supers are dazzling. Giant's year-old experiment called ''Something Special,'' in McLean, Va., is to grocery shopping what the Paris collections are to couture: a heady ambience in which to drop a lot of money.
Flawless, fresh fruits (five varieties of pears) and vegetables nestle in their own wicker baskets or white serving dishes, or rest upon a throne of shaved ice. Fresh octopus, gleaming pale gray and tentacled, rises from more ice (decked with orange slices) in the seafood department, along with Spanish red shrimp ($14.99 per pound), and whole Norwegian salmon.
The meat department includes exotic cuts that may offend preservationists: llama round steak, camel steak, bear round steak, a whole suckling pig at $65. A deli counter offers bluefish pate, fig and almond torta cheese at $15 a pound, fresh black truffles at $250 a pound. A bakery displays fragrant bread and rolls , and $20 fruit flans and other pastries.
There are aisles full of exotica such as walnut oil, rose water, Szechuan peppercorns, fresh flowers from mimosa to orchids, gleaming copper cookware and utensils for sale in a building that looks like a department store for food. It is an almost stately looking store, like a series of food boutiques grouped together in one vast area with a tasteful cedar exterior, an interior with harlequin-patterned brown and white floor, natural pine walls, fruit-and-flower decor, and bright graphics.
The McLean ''Something Special'' store opened in suburban Virginia with a black-tie premiere for 900 people, a hint (if you didn't know it before) that McClean has one of the highest income levels in the country.
The city was ideal as a test market, says Giant's -director of public affairs Barry Scher, ''because it's a more affluent population, with lots of embassies and VIPs within a few miles of the shop.'' The Washington-based food chain, with its 155 stores, has had a steady parade of rival supermarket executives visiting both the McLean and Rockville stores to dish up new ideas, Mr. Scher says.