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The East Village Key Food is a new level of hell when trying to grocery shop

Will Gleason

If you live in the East Village, have friends there or have placed a single foot between Houston and 14th Streets, east of Fourth Avenue, the odds are good that you’ve been to the East Village Key Food. Located in a prime location on

Avenue A, this grocery store attracts shoppers too lazy to trek to the Union Square Trader Joe’s, but too prideful to simply pick up a can of soup from their local bodega. It is a crowded and confounding place built to please everyone and no one at the same time: purgatory, but with cold cuts.

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Larger than a well-stocked deli but smaller than a proper grocery store, it is too spread out to find anything easily, while also featuring aisles too small to maneuver without becoming intimately acquainted with a stranger. In an effort to combine the immediacy of buying a container of cold pasta and eating it right on the spot with the comforting anonymity of Seamless, the store has replaced cashiers with multiple rows of self-checkout machines that don’t work. As a result, you not only have to engage in a an even longer conversation with an employee to figure out how to somehow reboot the machine but also delay devouring your macaroni salad. It’s so twisted, you almost have to admire the dark genius of it all.

Watching over this existential-crisis–inducing wonderland is a man in an eagle’s-nest booth above one of the few remaining checkouts staffed by an actual human being. This omnipotent yet distant god surveys his well-calibrated torture chamber and occasionally issues decrees over the PA system that no one can comprehend. Luckily, when it comes to this cursed place, the medium is the message. The only thing you really need to understand? You should have just gone to Trader Joe’s.


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