Staying Out Of The Way
By Robert Beck
When I paint at an event or in a business, I have to find a location that represents the subject’s personality but keeps me out of everybody’s way. The view I choose is often based on what I remember from a previous visit — something that stuck with me. I’ve shopped at Fairway many times, and though there are several interesting sections, the place inside the store that always says “Fairway” to me is the checkout area.
I know this flies in the face of conventional supermarket wisdom, but I like that Fairway feels like it was designed by a grocer rather than someone who specializes in Consumer Products Retail Interiors. It seems neighborhoody, not Disneyfoodmarkety. There are times when they are unloading shipments out front on the sidewalk that it looks like a newsreel from the 50s, with pedestrians, customers, and workers, negotiating that block of Broadway all at the same time. The action happens around you rather than someplace you can’t see, and that appeals to me.
The manager, Dehliah, was very accommodating. We decided that I should come Wednesday around 11 am, which typically is between rushes for them. She told me they would move the bulk displays along the front wall of the checkout area to make room for my set-up. It’s a busy, active location. I was excited.
In accordance with the Law of Best Laid Plans, the store got slammed with customers while I was there. I’m sure it had something to do with the Canadian smoke. It was that day when the sky turned amber, and it looked like we were stuck in an old beer bottle at the End of Days. It’s hard to know what to do when that happens, and it could be that after standing on the sidewalk with their phones over their heads until breathing became difficult, everybody switched to doom-weather mode and ran for milk and bread.
When the crowd showed up in Fairway, three checkout lanes quickly expanded to six. More employees appeared to keep things moving. They helped customers put stuff into bags, answered questions, got them carts and collected the ones shoppers just walked away from, all with good humor. There were times when people in front of me completely blocked my view, and I would have to move to see the counters, but I tried to keep that to a minimum. Stepping into the flow was dangerous. A few customers stopped to talk, but to most of them, I was invisible. Just some of that action happening around them. Part of the neighborhood.
Robert Beck’s West Side Canvas observes life on the Upper West Side. His studio is on 79th Street, and you can contact him at www.robertbeck.net
You can find Robert Beck’s earlier columns and paintings here.