It isn’t about the cheap blueberries. Or the half-price avocados. Or the shelves upon shelves of knockoff cereal.
Or maybe it is a little bit -- I get down with a bowl of Marshmallows & Stars every once in awhile, sue me -- but there has to be more. I’ve never been much of a bargain hunter, and even though I would sooner eat my phone than meet you at Center City Sips these days, I refuse to believe that my 30s have become this sad, this quickly.
And yet, the fact remains: my Saturday morning trip to Aldi easily makes the weekend highlight reel.
Don't know Aldi yet? It’s understandable. Despite arriving stateside decades ago and successfully infiltrating the Philadelphia area, the German discount grocer maintains a strategically low profile to keep prices as cutthroat possible. No advertising, no Instagram-worthy produce section, no cheese samples, no way. Although operated by the good people behind Trader Joe’s, the zero-frills chain is decidedly less perky. (Which, to be fair, isn’t all that difficult. TJ’s employees: blink those starry, glazed-over eyes twice if you forget how to lower the corners of your mouth.)
My Aldi isn't just any Aldi -- it's the South Philly Aldi, a location unknown to even diehards who happily cross the bridge for Mama Cozzi’s warm embrace. It does its best to blend in with the Goodwill next door, but as I discovered one glorious day last spring, it’s very much there, lurking in the shadows of Sunoco at Front and Oregon, accessible by what may or may not be an interdimensional portal.
This, I suspect, contributes to its power. In a city where wins can feel few and far between, $.99 cilantro is a very real accomplishment. In a neighborhood where even the squirrels throw side-eye, a secret Triscuit sale means something. In a world where Donald Trump could acquire nuclear codes, during the summer of the dumpster swimming pool, the Aldi star burns especially bright.
Did I mention the parking lot? Because yes, there’s a parking lot. A real, live, far-as-the-eye-can-see parking lot in South Philafuckingdelphia. Let us rejoice.
First-time shoppers find their first visit to this hidden gem a little confusing, so as the South Philly Aldi's Extremely Unofficial Ambassador, allow me to help.
Step 1: Pick a parking spot
Any parking spot. Hell, pick three. Let the abundance wash over you like a warm bath as you enter an alternate reality in which South Philly is not trying to destroy your car or your spirit. This will never happen again, but as they say, it is better to have loved and lost.
Step 2: Pay for your cart
You might notice the lack of abandoned carts cluttering up the Best Parking Lot in All the Land. That's because Aldi requires a $.25 deposit, a social contract that Philadelphians not only honor but gleefully embrace, rushing over to give quarters to confused newbies. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
Step 3: Shop with wild abandon
Come for the $1.99 hummus, stay for the palette of discontinued LaCroix. And yes, that is an economy-sized box of jalapeño poppers -- you do you.
Step 4: Feel smug about remembering your bags
Aldi charges for bags, but that's fine, because you remembered yours, you thrifty steward of the Earth. Gold star.
Step 5: Feel smug about fitting everything in said bags
Drink it in and linger in the glory. It looks good on you.
Step 6: Do donuts in the parking lot
Remember this feeling, and go forth into the horizon, friend. Today was a win.
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