I know that sounds like a large percentage of chains, but for people who live elsewhere I should point out that in Minnesota even at the chain establishments the staff treats you as if they work for a local smalltown diner. The coffee shop has a young cute gay manager who is very gifted at learning everybody's name (and backstory), and his staff takes their cue from him. They ask me on a regular basis what I have purchased for cheese day. If I get coffee in the morning and come back later in the day (there's coffee at work, but I like to get out and take a walking break and the coffee is much better at the coffee shop) they give me the refill price.
The manager of the bagel place -- until this week -- was a sort of tough no-nonsense dynamo of efficiency named Sue who greeted me by name and donated bagels for my Morris team on Mayday and always seemed to treat me with more than perfunctory pleasantness. But that's just business? Well, I might have thought so, until Monday, when after I paid for my bagel Sue gave me what seemed a sad look and asked if she could come around the counter and give me a hug. I thought something really terrible must have happened, but no -- Sue is moving on to open and manage a new branch of the bagel chain a few towns away. She said when they asked her to do it she told them she'd only do it if they met a certain salary level -- she didn't really want to leave the place she's been managing. But they met her offer. So Monday was her last day.
Just picture a manager at a chain bagel store coming around the counter at 7:30 am to give you a big teary hug because she's moving on! And Sue is definitely not a touchy-feely hugger sort, not by a long shot. She even said that she knows our paths will cross.
I tell you, I like this.
Of course the whole staff at Surdyk's cheese place knows me, but they seem a little bit jaded to the notion of regulars. They're very kind to me, but I can't imagine any of them hugging me on their last day.
Oh, and the other staff at Breuggers and the staff at the coffee shop often asks to see my tie, if it's covered by a coat or a sweater. Since Sue's departure, the remaining staff at Breuggers seems to go out of their way to treat me special now.
The branch of Pinera has the most effusive friendly staff in the world. It's sometimes an adventure to drop by there for their excellent little egg souffle cups for breakfast.
The staff at Lund's knows me now as well, as I do many small shopping errand there. One teenage cashier was excited to have seen me march with the Freedom Band and Pride, and since then she always greets me by asking about the band.
These things give life texture. They make me feel as if I live in a city. Of course there are friendly folks working in the suburbs, but there's something about all of these place being pretty much right outside the back entrance to my office that enriches my life and gives it texture.
Oh, and get this: Walking out the back door to my office dumps me into the parking lot of Nye's Polonaise Room, a sort of old-fashioned supper club and piano lounge that's been here since 1949. It's funky, but not really in a self-conscious post-modern way. They have strong cocktails and good beer and they serve cabbage rolls and Kielbasa. Tonight we are holding my office's annual holiday party there. Isn't that cool?