East vs West: False familiarity

“This. Is. Not. Target.”

My wife and I were both thinking the same thing as we stood in the entrance to the Target in the Factoria part of Bellevue. We had only been in the PNW for a few days, and needed the usual house supplies. Google led us to Target, but what we found was not the Target we knew and loved. It was small, and attached to a mall. It had neon light designs on the walls, old dirty shelves, and lacked many of the brands we would buy at our Target in PA.

We later found out that this is one of the older Targets in the area. When we later visited the Renton Target, we were relieved to find something more familiar. We had been prepared for a lack of brands like Dunkin Donuts and Cracker Barrel. What we had not been prepared for was such disparate experiences within the same brand.

Many of the brands we know did not change. For example, the Sears of the PNW is just like the Sears of the Northeast – a little outdated, a bit dirty, and filled with clothes that are a little behind the fashion curve. McDonalds is also exactly the same, which isn’t surprising because that’s one of their selling points.

Another shock was Red Robin. You see, Red Robin started in 1969 in the PNW, but I did not even hear about Red Robin until 2001, when my brother returned from college in Oklahoma. And I did not see a Red Robin in person until 2005. All of the Red Robins in PA are new and shiny. As such, my expectation of Red Robin was that it was clean, new, and shiny. Is this a realistic or fair expectation to have? I have no idea, but it’s what I had in my mind, based off of my experiences.

So when I walked into a Red Robin in Bellevue, I was taken aback. The place was dark and a little outdated. It wasn’t as bad as our first Target experience. But it was weird. It almost felt like a different place. The food was exactly the same (mmm bacon cheeseburger and bottomless fries), but the decor was just…aged. Just like Target, we have since seen Red Robins that match the new ones in PA. But, just like Target, the first experience wasn’t what I had expected.

The last two surprises we found when we first got here were in the supermarket. Walking around, the milk brands are different, the bread brands are different, the frozen pizza brands are the same… and then we saw the mayonnaise. It looked like Hellmann’s. It looked exactly like Hellmann’s! And yet, it said Best Foods on the label. What is this Best Foods, and why are they copying the Hellmann’s packaging? Come to find out, it’s the same company, but the name depends on which side of the Rockies you are on.

Then we walked into the ice cream aisle and saw something called Dreyer’s. Dreyer’s? It looks like Edy’s but sounds like Breyers. Well, once again, the name depends on what side of the Rockies you’re on. When Dreyer’s moved East, they didn’t want to be confused with Breyers (good thinking), so they dug up an older brand name and repackaged as Edy’s. So I grew up with a lie! Well, actually, we usually ate Breyers or went to PC Creams or Friendly’s. But still!

I think traveling is easier when everything is different. In London, everyone drove on the wrong side of the road, and nothing in the grocery store was familiar. This was easier on the brain – we were in a different place, so we had no expectations. But when something looks just like what you’re used to (Target, or Best Foods), and yet somehow isn’t – that small shift is hard to swallow.