Self-checkouts: worth switching supermarkets for?

When supermarkets in Edmonton started introducing self-checkout machines to their till areas last year, I was elated. More often than not, my complete purchase numbers less than 10 items, and I always found myself in for a lengthy wait, even in the so-called “express” lines. I know some people are against the idea of having to process their own groceries, but I find that it greatly decreases the time I spend in line, so a little extra effort is worth it to me. Having tried the machines at Save-on Foods, Superstore and Safeway, I can say that they are definitely not created equal.

Save-on Foods is, hands down, my favourite grocery chain. The stores are generally clean, they have a great selection of produce, and the prices are fairly reasonable (particularly if I am only there to pick up a few items). I remember being very impressed with their self-check outs when I first used them – the interface was easy to understand, vegetables were classified alphabetically by name, and an attendant was always standing by to help. Also, to encourage flow through the store on a discount Tuesday, they capped the maximum number of items at 15 for self-checkout users – a great idea. After a while though, I started to notice how particular their system was. For example, I like to use my own reusable grocery bag, and in order to do this, I must have the attendant swipe their pass to override the system. Also, the machines are very finicky about bagging the scanned item right away – they do not hesitate to remind the user of this before allowing another item to be scanned. Still, even with the minor inconveniences at the till, I find the entire shopping experience at Save-on to be the most enjoyable of the three, and that keeps me coming back.

Superstore, with their competitive prices across the board, is undoubtedly my choice when I am planning a larger-volume shopping trip. But the lines to their staffed tills, particularly late in the evenings and on weekends, stretch out into the aisles, and are always a deterrent to visiting the store. For that reason, the self-checkouts were a welcome sight. What I didn’t expect, however, was that so many of the machines would be down so much of the time. I have yet to encounter a situation where all of the machines are operational, or a time when the attendant is actually free to provide timely assistance (message to Galen Weston: get off the television and use that money to fix your self check-outs and have more staff available for troubleshooting). I also think a maximum item limit would help speed things up, as nothing is more disheartening than seeing a customer with 1001 items to check out, but no clue on how to use the machine. I will say that the Superstore machines are more forgiving than those at Save-on, as there is an option right at the start that allows users to tell the system that they will be using greenboxes or bags, and the machine automatically adjusts the weight allowance. In addition, the Superstore machines are definitely more patient, and provide the customer with more time to bag the item after scanning. And yet, in spite of these allowances, the aesthetics of Superstore and their lack of in-stock produce will keep me away for my day-to-day grocery needs.

Last but not least – Safeway. I will admit to having the least amount of experience with their machines, but they resemble, at least on the outset, the self-checkouts at Save-on. Safeway has programmed in a handy “most used codes” page for vegetables, which does save some time, but as I have only used their terminals a handful of times, I can’t pinpoint their nuances in the same way as I can for the other two stores.

Overall, while self-checkouts aren’t the reason why I visit a particular store, they have made my visits more seamless.

Have you been turned by the self-checkout revolution? Do you have your own terminal preferences?

5th Quarterly Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair

In the same way that farmers’ markets are rising in popularity because of the public’s interest in supporting local farmers, so are arts and crafts fairs that showcase the wares of area artists. I’d been meaning to stop at the quarterly Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair for some time, and finally had the opportunity to do so on Saturday.

Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair

We paid our $2 admission at the door of the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Venue (when did they change the name from Cosmopolitan Music Society?), and entered a small room to the left where a handful of tables were set up. We were expecting a lot more vendors, but thankfully, we found out there was a second larger room on the other side.

Room #2

As a whole, the fair was a lot smaller than the Holiday Stop and Shop I visited in November, but had representation from very similar vendors selling clothing, records, jewellery, cards, and decor items. I was tempted by a few items, including a tongue-in-cheek game called “Leaving Edmonton” by Adam Waldron-Blain, where the objective is to collect enough cards to allow the player to leave the city, and delicate purses made from the covers rescued from old hardcover books. We also found out about a new locally-published magazine called Display, which will feature only-Canadian content (when we asked the person about Display, she asked, “Are you creatives?” I’ve never heard that before). Flipping through the first issue, there was a story about Edmonton jewellery designers Twee, among others.

We ended up picking up a Jam Story poster (too cute) and a set of Gabe Wong’s Blockheads – “Humanoid Paper Toys”, as it is written on the package. I know I do have to show restraint at these fairs, and typically only buy one or two things, or gifts to give away. If you haven’t been to one of these craft fairs, I would encourage you to keep an eye out for the next one – a world of unique gifts await.

Netty likes Jam

2008 Butterdome Craft Sale

After the great experience I had at the Holiday Stop and Shop a few weeks ago, I was looking forward to checking out the 18th annual Butterdome Craft Sale for the first time. Funny how I never thought of stopping by the event during my numerous university years, but no time like the present to rectify past omissions, right?

Mack and I should have thought ahead and planned to take the bus, but it didn’t work out that way this afternoon, and we ended up parking in the zoo on campus. At a flat rate of $3.75, it wasn’t expensive, but it still added to the overall “admission plus” charges that day.

The Craft Sale charges $5 admission for adults, providing access to 240 vendors. We saw a ton of people coming out of the building, arms laden with bags and random knick-knacks purchased in anticipation of the holidays, and we were hoping to get some shopping done in a similar fashion.


Butterdome floor

I think what surprised me the most was the the artisans came from all over Canada – I saw quite a few vendors from Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto. And while we did see some very unique items (including Jim Nodge’s iron sculptures, and Tin House Design’s framed squares of reclaimed tin ceiling panels), Mack and I for the most part were disinterested shoppers. It took us just over an hour to walk through the entire floor, and we even took time to pause at the occasional vendor. All we had to show for our visit were two t-shirts Mack bought from Grimm (his favourite says “shouldn’t you be on a ledge somewhere”).

The Butterdome will hold its third Spring Craft Sale from May 1 – 3, but after this experience, I think I will stick with the smaller fairs, like Stop and Shop and the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair. Though I’m glad the Butterdome helps to push handmade crafts into the “mainstream”, the overall feel is too “corporate” and not as personal as the smaller, grassroots fairs, in my opinion.

Holiday Stop & Shop 2008

I finally made it out to Stop & Shop at the Trans Alta Arts Barns (10330 84 Avenue) on Thursday night, even though I’d been meaning to check out this “alternative craft show” for some time. Based on the article I read a few days back in the Journal, I was expecting a venue that would be filled with loud, obtrusive music that would make it difficult to browse wares comfortably. What I got was something completely different, and entirely fabulous.

The Arts Barns had been transformed into a marketplace, with the lobby, the boardroom, and the Westbury Theatre showcasing over 85 vendors selling everything from accessories, home decor items, to clothing.


A small stage was set up in the Westbury Theatre, on which a folksy, acoustic-guitar slinging singer was performing. His lovely tunes were carried into the other rooms via speakers, and I found that his music set the tone for the relaxed but jovial atmosphere in the hall. Stop & Shop was really like nothing I have ever been to in Edmonton – it felt more informal than other craft sales (like the one at the Butterdome each year), and made shopping a fun experience, with music, food, and drinks.

I ended up picking up a few things – a clever greeting card from Miss Dishy, an adorable Jam book by Sarah Jackson, and a new friend (Netty, an Ugly Doll by Belua Designs – I have Jane to thank for the last two purchases).

Ugly Dolls (too cute!)

Holiday Stop & Shop is on until Saturday (remember to print the $2 off admission coupon from the website before you go), but if you can’t make it, there are a few other off-the-beaten path craft fairs to attend:

  • November 18 & 19, 9am-3pm: Community Marketplace @ MacEwan South Campus (7319 29 Avenue by Room 145)
  • November 21 & 22, various times: Christmas Arts Bazaar @ The Carrot (9351 118 Avenue)
  • November 24, 2-10pm: Guerilla Boutique @ The ARTery (9535 Jasper Ave)
  • November 28-30, varied hours: Pizzazz! Not just another craft and gift show @ Edmonton Aviation Heritage Centre (11410 Kingsway Avenue), $3 admission, $1 off with Food Bank donation
  • November 29 & 30, 10am-5pm: Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair @ Cosmopolitan Music Society (8426 Gateway Blvd), $2 admission
  • December 11, 5-10pm: Sip and Splurge @ Savoy (10401 Whyte Avenue), bring a Food Bank donation for admission

Happy shopping!

Take it to the Streets: Old Strathcona Fashion Extravaganza, Street Sale & Art Walk

I remember having intentions to visit last summer’s Whyte Avenue Street Sale, but never got around to it. So this year, I jumped at the chance to kill three birds with one stone – namely, the Old Strathcona Art Walk, Fashion Extravaganza, and of course, the opportunity to shop on pavement.

The weather was perfectly glorious for outdoor activities of any kind on Sunday, including the open-air catwalk that greeted us at 82nd and Gateway Boulevard. As my sister predicted, the fashion show turned out to be rather “lame” – the DJ had a preference for one-hit dance tunes from the 90s, some of the models left the stage before the announcer was finished with their outfit label rundown, and tags on some items were clearly visible from the crowd. On the bright side, much improvement can and will happen should the event be repeated in the future (here’s a video clip courtesy of Mack’s Flip if you’re interested).

Crowded runway


We continued down the street, pausing on occasion to peruse discounted wares in addition to displays set up by local artists participating in the Art Walk. Perhaps it’s too cliché or tourist-oriented, but I was expecting to see more pieces devoted to Edmonton’s land or cityscape for sale.

Street sale

A kayak, anyone?

How about a turtle?

Art Walk

More art for sale

Mack can never avoid the beckoning call of mini doughnuts

We also wandered into a number of stores. Notable was Ten Thousand Villages (10432 82 Avenue), where Mack found a visor that was perfect for him, and Eden Lilly (10416 82 Avenue), which carries a line of locally-designed cards that were too cheeky not to photographically commemorate.

Coke visor!


Double take? (Cards by Brulak Design Studio, available in 11 locations in Edmonton)

On our way back north, we noticed that the High Level Bridge waterfall was on as it had been earlier in the day (yesterday was also the Sourdough River Festival – it amazes me how many events took place on one day). We scrambled to park the car so we could take pictures (and a video!).


By late afternoon, we had built up quite the appetite. Thankfully, we had tickets to Edmonton’s Countryside Taste of Summer event.