ShopRite or Shangri-La?

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Adults traversing their entire state chasing down juice boxes is normal right? Who knew we’d be grown ass adults searching feverishly for a tiny box of green juice that we used to bring in our lunch boxes as kids. It makes sense though, it’s sort of similar to finding the fountain of youth. Ecto Cooler hasn’t been on store shelves in so long that having the opportunity to suck that ectoplazmic green elixir out of that beautifully retro Hi-C container is worth going to the ends of the earth for, or in my case, New Jersey. And I pretty much did just that. Those color changing Ecto Cooler cans were procured on a wild goose chase that you can hear on a recent Purple Stuff Podcast, but the elusive juice boxes were still, well…eluding me. By the time you read this, you’ll probably have gulped down 3-4 cases of juice boxes already, but let me tell you about the night that I finally found them.

We had just left Six Flags Great Adventure. It was a fun albeit short visit which you can read about here. As we were about to head home on the NJ Turnpike, Miss Sexy Armpit mentioned that maybe we could stop at a few ShopRites or random grocery stores on the way home to see if we run into any Ecto Cooler juice boxes. At this point they were only getting discovered sporadically. It was like they were peppered throughout the country with no rhyme or reason. She didn’t have to twist my arm, I live for this shit. It’s the thrill of the chase. Often, the hunt is the best part, but in this case, the end result would be overwhelmingly satisfying.

The return of Ecto Cooler has meant so much to all of us. It’s obvious that not only Ghostbusters fans were ecstatic about the Ecto Cooler comeback, but basically everyone who was a kid in the late ’80s and early ’90s. What’s even more remarkable about this whole thing is that it’s also reached kids and adults who weren’t even familiar with it, but they’ve since been indoctrinated into the legend. I’ve talked to people online and in real life who have blatantly admitted to never even having one sip of Ecto Cooler in their lives, some never even heard of it before. Mostly all of them were still interested in getting a pack.

Options upped the ante of Ecto Cooler’s resurgence. We were getting color changing cans AND juice boxes with the old school Hi-C logo? Get out of town! Not only did it give us a reason to go on a wild ghost chase, but it also made the entire experience way more intriguing. Sure, it was the same green sugar water in both the can and the boxes, but who cares! To me, having both was imperative. While there was a lot of complaints about the rollout date, stores not having any stock, and the cans continuously selling out online, all the good totally outweighed the bad without a doubt. Why look a green gift-ghost in the mouth full of hot dogs?

No luck at the first couple of stores we stopped at. As we made our way back home, we had one remaining option. ShopRite of Jackson, NJ.

To many people in New Jersey, Jackson is known for Great Adventure and outlet stores. Never mentioned in the same sentence, though, is the town’s little known secret.

An enchanted ShopRite.

Get ready to jump down into a warp zone. If Disney were to ever purchase the entire ShopRite franchise, the Jackson, NJ location would be the prototype. It would be the flagship store, the one that Bob Iger would pop into once every few months unannounced just to say hi. He might smile and shake hands with the employees, but he’d really be there to greet all the anthropomorphic produce creatures. Yes, you read that correctly. I had a feeling you’d find this interesting.

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As we walked toward the entrance, I knew I was in for a treat when I saw the amazing giant clock. 8 O’Clock was represented by a couple of smiling, dancing cans of tuna. OF COURSE! 11 O’Clock was an elated toothbrush tube squirting itself everywhere. How could this get any better? Where the f*ck was I? Did we literally cross over into Fantasy Land or better yet, OZ? I could easily imagine all ShopRites there being exactly like this. Shit, the shopping carts were even designed for kids. They’re flaming hot rod cars with steering wheels! “Ma, do you mind if we skip Great Adventure and go directly to SHOPRITE? – me if I knew about this place as a kid.

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The automatic doors whooshed open. A flood of cool, fresh air lingered around me and the aroma of freshly baked bread traveled up my nose. A bright sheen around the store made me squint to try to figure out whether I was actually in ShopRite or a soundstage for a scene in an upcoming Willy Wonka sequel. Call me crazy, but when you see googly-eyed tomatoes hobknobbing with sultry, singing corn on the cobs, you might feel the same way. Then there was the crazed, hungry pizza slice and the hamburger-eating Hot Dog Man. Trust me, this is real. All of it.

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The trippy technicolor dreamland continued. I walked further and saw those darling old cougar Brussel sprouts were out prowling for young smiling pears. They couldn’t stop flirting with each other in their old timey accents. Or was I just hearing that in my head? Then there was the Bad Butcher, he was pretty abrasive to his crew and he loved to micromanage. The guys on his staff were experts at handling meat. Normally, they could do wonders with all kinds of meat in their hands, but with Big Boss Butcher barking orders at them, they could barely balance their burgers!

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Not too far from there, was another oddity. The chickens were running the magic yogurt machine. They were a little frantic, but they had chutzpah. Over in the juice aisle, Granny Grocery was making all us shoppers fresh squeezed orange juice. I was about to go into the cold case and grab a carton of Minute Maid that she apparently just packed and sit down on the shiny cold white tile floor. I wanted to sip away, and gaze up at all my new figment friends.

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Miss Sexy Armpit came down the aisle and asked if I had any luck with the Ecto Cooler. Momentarily I’d forgotten what we were even there for since I was swept away into magical grocery land. I wasn’t actually drinking juice on the floor, but I wished I could’ve been. I refocused and remembered why I was in this store. How can anyone get any shopping done with all these wonderful, whimsical distractions? I jetted off to the juice box aisle. We passed the giant palette at the end of the aisle with all the new stock in it, wrapped in cellophane. I pointed out that this is where the Ecto might be and looked quickly, but didn’t see it.

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By now, it’s easy to tell in about 0.2 seconds whether or not the shelves are blessed with Ecto Cooler. I didn’t even need me PKE meter. THERE WAS NO TRACE! I didn’t feel defeated though, mostly because of how incredible this ShopRite was. Miss Sexy Armpit vanished and I found her back at that stock palette. She waved me over and pointed directly front and center in the giant stack of boxes where I had looked earlier. I must have done a shitty scan job because she found it smack dab in the middle of the palette! Excitement personified.

Without hesitation, I shoved my hands through the double cellophane wrapping in one fell swoop and grabbed two cases right out. I was overcome with a feeling as if I was committing a crime because at that point I wanted to sprint to the register and check out. It was so much cooler to get the Ecto Cooler this way rather than just happily find it on a shelf and place it gingerly into a shopping cart. I wasn’t a crook, but I felt like one.

I didn’t want to leave this fascinating ShopRite. The little creative touches around the store were the type of stuff that grocery stores (or any stores in general) don’t really have anymore, BUT THIS ONE DOES! The simple charms of colorful, oversized, smiling food characters and magical yogurt machines infuse so much imagination into the shopping experience. I felt like a little kid in awe walking around that store. Thanks to ShopRite of Jackson for giving me such an unexpectedly cool experience and I hope their location only gets even more wondrous.

The mission of finding the Ecto Cooler Juice boxes was not only accomplished, but it was elevated to the next level. It couldn’t have worked out any better. It was such a perfect ending to my personal Ecto Cooler saga. I hope all of your Ecto excursions are equally as weird and wonderful! If you had any Ecto-Search stories of your own, feel free to share them with us in the comments!

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  • AxelPalmer

    Great story. Just as engaging as the journey recounted by you and Matt on the PurpleStuff podcast.

  • JohnV

    Shopping carts with flames, whimsically humorous characters everywhere…That’s the coolest supermarket I’ve ever seen.

  • Blake Bickerstaff

    Cool!

  • Tim Mischka

    I know of at least one other ShopRite location with this (kind of creepy looking) decor- the one in Manahawkin, near the bridge to LBI. Presumably they’re the same franchise- ShopRite is a cooperative of different owners and groups. The ones up here in northwest Jersey are fairly boring- and for my nearest one, it has sucky parking, which is one of the reasons I want my dad to shop at Acme instead.

  • Nora Elizabeth Smith

    I’ve never seen your blog until today, but I wanted to thank you for posting these photos of ShopRites creepy ass decorations. I Googled “creepy ShopRite”, as I was trying to explain to someone at work how creepy that it is, and your photos came up. I live in TN, where there are no ShopRites, but I visit NJ every year to go camping with friends from there, and my first experience was the store in Manahawkin. Never in my life have I seen such a terrifyingly decorated grocery store. It was unnerving, but absolutely fucking hilarious. What the hell is up with the faces? I don’t need sentient broccoli looking down on me as I pass. I asked my friend if they were all like this, and she told me no, but apparently there is more than one. That shit is wild.

  • Donita

    Oh gosh Jackson Shoprite! We live about 25 minutes away from Jackson and our friends who just moved there told us all about this place. One weekend we stopped by and were entranced! Far better than the Shoprite local to us that is dark and has been Frankensteined with new additions 4 times over.