No Frills No Longer

No Frills No Longer

1st Jun 2023

Today, I ran to Ashland's local grocery store, No Frills, to pick up some supplies for the shop. Except it's not No Frills all of a sudden. It's Family Fare, which has owned No Frills since 2014, so says Wikipedia, but still. There's something about the name “No Frills” that encapsulates small town life. Nothing to see here. No glitz, no sparkle, no shine. Just the necessities, plain and simple, and if that's not good enough? Move along. It's reminiscent of the controversial ad campaign launched a few years back for Nebraska: “Honestly, it's not for everyone.” Plenty of people would say the same about No Frills.


The major signage on the building had changed when I stopped there the other day. But the parking lot sign was getting switched out today, and faced with it, I was seized with panic. Had anyone photographed No Frills as No Frills before it suddenly became something else? I knew the transition was coming, but it hadn't occurred to me to take time to document it. Did someone from the paper? Any local photographers? Why didn't I think of this before it was too late? The meltdown was as immediate as it was unexpected. And then--the sign! I remembered, of course, that it was two-sided, so I jogged across the parking lot, in the rain, to see if it also had changed. It hadn't. I had a sliver of time to capture this milestone, and I snagged this harried and lackluster photo. The guys had swapped out the second side by the time I had gotten my groceries and reemerged. Here for decades, gone in a heartbeat.

I realize this is weirdly sentimental. Running across a parking lot in the rain is something you do for love. But the inexplicable thing is that I have never loved No Frills. Trader Joe's, I love. The cheese! The prepared dips and spreads! The great produce at a great price! The wine selection! The brioche bread! The flowers! Love with mega heart eyes. But No Frills? It has always felt outdated. A little scuffed up. A little worse for the wear. A place where you would go because there wasn't a newer, brighter, shinier alternative. 

But gosh, there's something about going to a place with that name on a near-daily basis for lots of years of your life that works its way into your psyche, you know? No Frills was not there to impress you. No Frills was there to serve you. It offered up milk and potato chips and wine that would do and cereal and bread and mayo and hit-and-miss produce and gallon tubs of ice cream and--well--the basics. And none of the rest. Without apology--and also without thanks, at least from this customer, for most of my life.

We do a lot of trying to impress each other these days, broadcasting to big audiences and vying for attention. It's exhausting, isn't it? The invitation--pressure, even--to buy a certain thing and look a certain way and live in a self-conscious and hyper-stylized manner. To make choices always with an eye toward audience. So there's something deeply refreshing about stepping into environments that haven't wasted a moment's thought on their own popularity. That will survive the day and open again tomorrow, quietly and without fanfare, whether or not the world is singing their praise.

And there's an irony in this, one that really only occurred to me when I imploded about the official branding change of a grocery store I never adored. This business that has worked not to be noticed but to genuinely serve others, day after day and year after year, has become deeply valuable to me, more so than any imaginable frill out there. And though I shopped those aisles with more than a little disdain at times that this ingredient or that wasn't available, I downright panicked today at the loss of this place, running through the rain for one final glimpse. You really do run across a parking lot in the rain, it turns out, for love.

So my heart is heavy. It feels patently ridiculous to say so, but there it is. Especially since Family Fare will go on very much resembling the old No Frills. The cashiers and the store footprint and the scuffed up floors will remain--at least for now. But let the record show that for as much as I enjoyed determining what did and did not constitute a "frill" by what was stocked on the shelves--as frequently as I gave the place a gentle ribbing--as many times as I wished Ashland had something newer, brighter, and shinier--No Frills won me over. I'm sad to see the name go, and the place as I have known it since my childhood.  

Raising a glass of serviceable wine to you, No Frills. It honestly wasn't for everyone, but it was for me.