Snow measure

Piles on tables and chairs around the house and yard are one way of seeing how much snow we’ve had recently. The depth is harder to guess when you’re looking out at the ground. This kind of reminds me of a white-frosted cake.

How about a few firsts?

Yesterday was not only the first day of December, it was also the first day of Advent.

(Make that Advent in the Western Christian calender, which runs between 21 and 27 days before Christmas, depending. The Eastern Orthodox faithful, in contrast, observe it as a 40-day fast that began November 15 this year.)

For us, our first snowfall of the year also began yesterday, and it’s already delivered seven inches, a bit under half of what’s expected by tomorrow morning.

My wife was pleased to have all of this also fall into the extended Thanksgiving Day weekend, a welcome break in what’s been a chaotic schedule.

How’s the month kicking off for you?

Snow’s piled up atop the thermometer on the tree trunk. Welcome to December where we live.

 

They’re balancing the ring in Petronella

A style of community dance popular in New England since Colonial times, contras start out as two lines of partners facing each other and then the next couple on each side. There’s a live band and callers, and we walk through the sequence of steps before the music begins. The whole point is to have fun, and you wind up dancing with everyone in the line before the piece is finished. This example is from the  Lamprey River Band’s dance series in Dover’s city hall before the monthly event moved to a Unitarian-Universalist church in neighboring Durham. This particular dance is named Petronella.

Aldi comes to town

It took Trader Joe’s forever to get to New Hampshire. Now the other half of the Albrecht corporate identity in America has finally arrived, with a new store in Dover.

The nearest TJ’s, for the record, is in Newington, one town to the south of us, with its mall, cineplex, power plant, big industrial park and airfield, and a slew of retailers serving both Dover and Portsmouth.

If you’re familiar with the German-based Aldi discount supermarket chain, you know it’s spartan about low prices, boasting that it undercuts Walmart. Rather than a choice of brand-name products, the shelves present mainly storebrand items – still in the cardboard shipping box. You put a deposit on a grocery cart, if you need one, and you have to pay for a grocery bag, if you didn’t bring your own. And, despite the frugality or stinginess, there are customers who rave about its specialty chocolate and coffee. And those who complain.

The name Aldi stands for AL-brecht DI-scount. And, oh, yes, the owners, Germany’s richest family, have been feuding, providing plenty of gossip. By the way, the cart rental means you take it back to the store for your quarter, saving the company the expense of hiring someone to retrieve it from the parking lot.

The local Aldi doesn’t sell alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets.

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The grocery business has always been competitive, with thin profit margins. Success has depended on volume, for the most part, and niche loyalty, where possible. There’s little room for error.

Regionally, the Market Basket chain dominates. It has the lowest prices overall, wide variety, locally responsive product selection, fierce customer and employee loyalty, and a 1950s’ New England identity. We’re grateful it survived its own Greek family feud and continues with its enlightened leadership.

Meanwhile, the other two players in town pitch themselves toward stylish, but they’re almost never crowded. You might stop there if you don’t want to face the crowd at Market Basket or prefer closer parking, but there’s definitely a sense that they’re not where the action is, despite the corporate decor.

Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford is owned by the Ahold Dehaize group in the Netherlands, which also operates the Giant, Food Lion, and Stop & Shop chains in the U.S. It feels sterile.

Shaw’s Market operates jointly with Star Market out of West Bridgeport, Massachusetts, and is owned by Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s. Its tone is somehow greener or more intimately lighted. Do we really care if it’s the official grocer of the Boston Red Sox?

In Dover, Hannaford and Shaw’s sit side by side north of the hospital.

Intriguingly, Aldi chose to tuck its new store in across the street. Rather than building, it could have taken over the former Staple’s site a bit up the street, closer to both the freeway and to Market Basket. We’re curious about the corporate thinking here.

Our guess is that Aldi figures it can pick off at least one of the two rivals that share its traffic lights. Hannaford has a satisfactory pharmacy, one that my health plan pointed me to. Shaw’s turns out some fine baguettes and the tortilla chips are superb. So we’d miss either one.

For perspective, the Shaw’s in Newington recently folded, unable to keep up with its neighboring Market Basket and TJ’s.

Aldi is closer to downtown Dover than Market Basket, and for some prices, it’s coming in lower. But is that enough to cut significantly into No. 1?

We’ll see.

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For now, I’m viewing it more as a convenience store with low prices. A gallon of milk is a dime or two cheaper than anywhere else … for now.