MilanArea.com Grocery Store Reviews
"Food is an important part of a balanced diet." Fran Lebowitz (1950 - )
Competition is a wonderful thing and in the grocery stores of the Norwalk area it's alive and well. Basically what we have on the Milan side of Norwalk are currently three full service stores to choose from plus specialty stores which also sell packaged food products. Most of these stores are within a few blocks of each other so when I go shopping, I usually cover three or four different stores and spend a couple hours shopping. If that's not enough for you, you can go in the other direction to Sandusky and find even more stores.
For those new to this area, or for those who are just learning to be an elderly shopper, I will tell you what I think about the various grocery stores in this area. Immediately below is a store-by-store review and below that is my "Best Of" guide. This isn't the "Holy Grail" of grocery stores. This is just my opinion. Your experience may be different than mine or your opinion may be contrary to mine, but this is my site so I get to give my opinion. The point here is that with the wide selection of grocery stores in this area, you should be able to find one that works for you. Here's my list:
Gardner's SuperValu Foods: Gardeners is located in an older, small, corner strip center although the store has recently been remodeled. They usually have the best special pricing in their weekly flyers of any store in this area. Very elderly friendly including an extra 5% discount offered at the cash registers for elderly shoppers. Generally their butcher cut special pricing is the same in a single pack or family pack which makes them much more elderly friendly. Good meat department. They also have the only liquor store in the area. Gardener's has a loyal following with people in this area and they've earned it by leading the way with value pricing. They also employ some elderly and handicapped people in their store, which is another plus with me. On the negative side, it's a smaller store which has limited selections of some products. Deli department has recently been remodeled and it's much nicer, but in my experience, understaffed and sometimes it's difficult to get lunch meat cut the way I want it. Recently I've noticed they're trying to improve the way the deli area is run, and I'm sure the customers appreciate it, but still they have the two problems. Also, this store tends to have sale pricing on specific selections which is very annoying. For example: they often have sale pricing on 2% milk but no other kind of milk. IGA, on the other hand, puts all types of milk (whole, 2%, 1% and skim) on sale when they have a sale. Not enough handicap parking close to the door - 4 spaces. The also have a gas card promotion but it is with the a gas station with only one island of pumps which means you may wait a long time to get your gas - see below on best Fuel Perks. To visit their Internet site click on here: http://www.gardnersfoods.com/
SuperCenter: The layout of this store is a little odd, but
they've put money into the upkeep of the store and it shows. Very modern
and clean both inside and out. Good produce department with generally good
Excellent deli department - the best in Norwalk in my opinion (see below). They put out a
nice weekly flyer that highlights their specials which is also shown on
their Internet site. Their everyday pricing
is average, but this store has a lot of intangibles. They
generally have good pricing on the basics - milk, eggs, etc. Friendly
people, some elderly employees and service oriented. For example:
They have three different types of grocery carts (plus specialty carts)
which is a better variety then most other stores have in town. The have sanitary wipes by the carts so you
can wipe the handles off before you use the cart. They have a small floral/gift shop near the
of the store and a cafe at the other end of the store and a small, but good
bakery area beside the deli department. On the negative side, their
meat department is not nearly as service oriented as the rest of the store's
personal. I also think they rely to heavily on frozen items (poultry and
fish), but whenever I've bought meat there it's been excellent. They have
large, easy-to-read checkout TV screens so you can see your purchases
being rung up and if you see a mistake on pricing, they gladly correct it. They
do NOT have near enough handicapped parking spaces at their store so
that's a huge negative with some elderly people and they don't offer
senior discounts and that is another mistake. But for me, the pluses out
weight the negatives. They also have a gas pump area in their parking lot which means even less parking in the parking lot but a lot of
convenience if you're using their gas card. For customers who have
computers, they post their
flyer on their web site each week at this url:
Wal-Mart: Almost to many pluses to list. I think Wal Mart understands the average American shopper better than anyone and that's one reason why they've been so successful. I marvel at their ingenuity. They do not discriminate against elderly people or any people for that matter that I can see. They have a ton of handicapped parking areas in front of the store at each entrance and handicap carts and accessories in their store including handicapped and elderly employees. The grocery end of the store is well stocked with wide aisles and good value everyday low pricing. Good bakery/deli department although the deli doesn't stock some area specialty products. Their pricing on butcher cut products are not that good and their produce pricing is generally high. In fact, their meat and produce pricing is so high, that I can usually beat their price every week at other grocery stores in town. Some of their house brands (Sam's brand) are not very good. Finally then, I should note the Wal-Mart will honor sale flyer prices of brand products from other stores in the area.
Coupons: I do occasionally clip coupons. I would do it more but there's not much by way of coupons in this area. Every Sunday I get the Sandusky newspaper and I never cease to be amazed at how few coupons there are in this paper. Apparently, Erie and Huron county grocery stores have such good specials they don't need coupons in this area. For those of you who happen to be in Sandusky County on any given Saturday, pick up a copy of the Fremont New Messenger and bring it home with you. Most Saturdays they have so many coupon flyer inserts that your arm will get tired cutting them all out. It's a shame no one around here sells the Saturday Fremont paper.
Other Stores: As noted before, there are other stores to purchase grocery items beside full service stores. By full service I mean stores that custom cut meats and have other specialty departments such as deli, bakery or fresh fish departments. Not all stores have every department but a full service store should have a full range of custom services for the customer. I know that Aldi's has a loyal following but it's more of a mini-warehouse grocery store that relies heavily on it's own brands and therefore I don't list it with the full service stores. There's also a K-Mart close to Milan which has a pre-packaged grocery area that has weekly specials in their flyer. Norwalk also currently has four drug stores that sell some food products. CVS which has some good specials and bonus register coupons, Rite-Aid which has a good selection of food products and also has weekly special pricing, Drug-Mart and Walgreens which also has some food products and has a weekly flyer. If you're looking for good specials, always check the weekly flyers from these stores along with the grocery store sale flyers. All of these stores are within the grocery shopping store area in Norwalk.
While we're talking about grocery store flyers, the primary store flyers appear in the Norwalk Reflector in the Saturday and Monday Editions. As of this writing, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, K-mart and Meijers flyers are in Saturday's paper in Milan. On Monday, Gardners and IGA are in the paper. If you're not currently a subscriber of the Reflector and you want to get some of the flyers, you can get a free Monday newspaper complete with the Monday inserts mailed to you by calling the Reflector and asking for the Monday free paper which you will then receive each week in Tuesday's mail.
Sandusky: If you're up to the drive, Sandusky has some very nice grocery stores also. Just keep in mind Sandusky is about 12 miles from Milan plus the distance to the stores themselves. So, for example, if you're driving to Kroger's from Milan, you're talking about a 15 mile trip each way. Many cars get about 15 miles to the gallon of gas in town so a round trip will cost you a couple gallons of gas which based upon today's prices means you'll be spending $6.00 or more in gas for the pleasure of shopping in Sandusky. I already briefly discussed Kroger's and their pricing, but specifically this is a beautiful store. If there's a larger grocery store in this area I haven't seen it. Huge selection and good specialty departments with good everyday pricing and some great specials. The only negative is their location (on Perkins Ave.) and their fish department which is small and runs out of specials all the time. Lot's of handicapped parking at Kroger's. I wish there was a Kroger's in Norwalk because there's some things that Kroger's does better on pricing than anyone else including their house brands and pop.
Meijers is on Rt.250 near the Sandusky Mall and they're famous for their huge produce department which is a delight to shop. They have an average size deli department and bakery and a fish department which has a nice selection of fresh fish. Their everyday pricing is about normal but they do have some great specials from time to time so watch for their flyers. They also tend to run out of specials from time to time so be warned. I would also note that the people who work in the grocery area are very helpful when you ask them questions. This is a huge store, but the grocery area is only about a quarter of the area of the store. Meijers like Wal-Mart does hire some handicapped and elderly people which is a plus. But they're short on handicapped parking spaces. In fact, there are so few handicapped spaces that it's nearly impossible to find available vacant handicapped parking spaces near the entrance to the grocery store. On the whole however, I really enjoy shopping at Meijers and I should note that some of their own brands items are very good, so don't be afraid to try them.
Sam's: The new Sam's Warehouse Store has a large grocery area including a full service meat department, largest frozen food department in this area and a ton of pre-packaged name brand food in larger containers. They do have some good pricing but not in their meat area. About the same as Wal Mart which is over priced in comparison to other, smaller grocery stores in the area. Probably a good store to shop if you have a big family, but not a lot for singles or elderly people. On a side note, Sam's is stocking pre-packed meals for busy people who don't want or have the time to cook. For example: meatloaf & mashed potatoes in a size large enough to feed multiple people in your family.
Gordon Foods (GFS): The hook is that they sell larger quantities to restaurants and commercial establishments and therefore you should be able to get value pricing when shopping there. Don't believe it. GFS has very little value pricing and when they do put a flyer in the paper, the pricing is about average for grocery stores sale flyers. Actually, there's not much that would draw a individual into their store. Their market is caterer's, small club's and at home parties but probably not to people doing weekly shopping for home. Similar to Sam's in that to get good pricing you have to overbuy products which I guess works for large families. Gordon's do have some food items that are better than other stores offer, so I do shop their store a few times each year.
Summary: I'm an elderly person on a fixed budget so that no doubt greatly influences my opinion when I review these stores. I think all of us who live in this area are fortunate to have so many full service grocery stores. Your age, family size and income level will influence where you shop and spend your money. I've made up a best of list which should point you in the right direction if you looking for any of the following:
BEST DELI DEPARTMENT: Schilds's IGA Good selection of local specialty brands - Bellevue Brand Dresden Ham and Isley's Chipped Ham for example. The sales clerks usually call up another clerk if more than one customer is waiting for service. They understand there is a difference between chipped, chopped and sliced lunchmeat. In fact, they seem to be the only grocery deli store I've found, in this area, that knows how to cut chipped ham. I think the service here is very good and I like their selection. They also feature a lot of pre-packed custom prepared foods and they have sale specials each week in the deli department. They're the best in the areas that count with me - service and selection. Gardner's would be second and they have the best price of specials each week.
BEST SPECIAL PRICING: Gardners Super Value. Nobody consistently beats Gardner's when they have their loss leader specials. Unfortunately, they're loss leader specials are becoming less and less common. But, almost always have good weekly specials on meat and poultry products.
BEST IN-STORE BAKERY: Wal-Mart. Because of their selection of fresh hand made breads and rolls I have to give this award to Wal-Mart. Given the large amount of foot traffic in a Wal Mart store, they should have consistently fresh bakery items and they usually do. Gardners would be a close second because some of their bakery products are excellent. The one thing I like about Gardner's is they real butter frosting and cream in the pasty items. IGA used whipped topping and custard in the cream sticks which I don't like. When the cream sticks are using real cream, they are seldom filled with enough cream and that is a huge no-no in any bakery. If you have a really sweet tooth and want to take a drive in the country, try Burnham Orchards (on Rt 113 east) new bakery department which do put enough filling in their cream sticks when I visited it. The have a good selection of pastry items but come early and bring your wallet because it's really hard to get out of there without spending more than you planned. Burnham also had a fly/bee problem in their bakery when I visited it and I hope they've got that problem corrected.
BEST FISH DEPARTMENT: The best place to get wild caught fish at this time is Meijers in Sandusky who consistently features at least one variety of wild caught fish each week. Unfortunately, they sometimes run out of their specials and that's a negative to me. Kroger's would come in second in this area and they also run out of specials. Unfortunately, there is no place in Norwalk to find reasonably priced, fresh fish. IGA is trying to improve their fish selection and they now have weekly specials on fish, but still their price is higher than stores in Sandusky.
BEST PRODUCE DEPARTMENT: Schild's IGA. This is an interesting category. I give it to IGA because they have a good variety of fresh produce that's reasonably priced. Gardner's have improved their produce department quite a bit and they are close to IGA in price and selection.
DEPARTMENT: I pick IGA because of
the high quality. On four occasions, I picked strips steaks at Gardner's
and IGA (in 2012) on following weeks and every time Gardner's had grizzle
and was tough to chew. The IGA were perfect with no grizzle. The ground
meat and pork was about the same from each store with specials about the
BEST FUEL PERKS: IGA is really the only fuel perks program in Norwalk that works for the customers. Each time you shop at IGA, have them ring up your card and you'll be amazed at how fast the discounts mount of your next fill up. They also have an on-site gas station but pay attention to the price. Sometimes IGA puts their gasoline prices about .05 cents a galleon higher than other gas stations in the area. There is no second. Gardner's cards only work when you purchase $50.00 or more on your shopping trip or so they've told me. Gardner's use the Sunoco Station on the hill on Benedict Street and this station only has one set of pumps and you may have to wait a long time to get in to fill up not to mention that it's inconvenient to pull out of this station. They have a drive through that cuts right across the pump drive in area. This is a disaster waiting to happen. And recently, it did happen when an 88 year old man pulled out of the carryout and hit a pick-up truck parked at the gas pumps. This story ends badly, so if you do get gas at this station or use the drive-thru carryout, please be careful when pulling out across lanes at the store.
Some Thoughts on Grocery Shopping at Wal-Mart
I want to close out this section by talking more about Wal-Mart and it's influence on other stores in the area. I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart because I don't think any company should have that much power to wield over what we purchase and where we purchase it. On the other hand I know any community the size of Norwalk is fortunate to have a large Wal-Mart in their town. But for all of Wal-Mart's positives - and there are many - it also has some negatives which affect the consumer in a variety of way. For example, the products that Wal-Mart stock and promote are those on which they make the largest profit on and/or those that they can warehouse for distribution which eliminates many local specialty products. Obviously there are grocery items that Wal-Mart doesn't stock or sell and that's just one reason why we need a diversity of grocery stores in the area. Wal-Mart's lower everyday prices on brand items (those items you can comparison shop) is a good thing on average, but their pricing on none brand items (things you can't easily comparison shop) such as meat and produce is hardly discount pricing and almost always you can find better prices on those same items in local grocery stores. Wal-Mart is simply part of the grocery shopping option in this area and everyone would all do well to keep that in mind when we go grocery shopping. Support your local stores.
Finally then, let me touch on service and how it affects where we shop. My wife and I have a theory that nice people generally hire nice people to work for them. In other words, if you go into a store and the people that wait on you are jerks, it's a direct reflection on the person that hired them. The smaller the community the more this seems to hold true. Norwalk is a small community, Milan is even smaller. I don't know why anyone would hire an employee who would offend people but I see it a lot. In a grocery store, often the only people you come in contact with are the persons working in the deli department, at the check out register and the person bagging your groceries. In affect, these are the people at that store that come in contact with the most customers so if a store wants good public relations with it's customers, I suggest you first take a good look at your employees that come in contact with customers.
I've pointed out in this section that I think the people at Schild's IGA are service oriented. I don't know who does the hiring over there or trains their people, but this store has a noticeable relaxed atmosphere among it's employees and they seem to care about their customers, although I won't extend that compliment to the younger girls who work the registers at IGA who seem more interested in talking with the bag boys than paying attention to the customers. That compliment also doesn't extend to the people in the meat department, which in my opinion is the opposite of the rest of the store. Gardner's also has the same friendly qualities in their employees. Interestingly, both of these stores have some elderly people working in the stores. Nobody is perfect and I'm not claiming these two stores are, but the service they consistently show to the customers is impressive to me when compared to some of the other stores in town.
I'm not going to shop at a store just because it has good service, but I won't shop at a store that has consistently bad service either, so for me, service is part of the formula on where I shop. There probably was a point in my life when I wouldn't have cared about a store's service because I was in and out so quickly that service wasn't even a factor. But as I've gotten older I've slowed down and now I take my time grocery shopping. I look around, I notice things - little things that I might have missed before and all of that reflects on my opinion of the store. Below is an e-mail link to send me a message if you want to disagree with me or point out something I've missed. This page is not completed. I change it whenever it becomes necessary. Sometimes I add to it each week so my opinion of a store could change if the store changes.
This Page Last Updated: 10/09/2013
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