There’s always those awkward first days of freshman year where nobody seems to know that there’s such a thing as towns outside of their small section of New Jersey, that people in Massachusetts call their water fountains “bubblers” or that not everyone has a Hannaford.
When this would happen with friends from Connecticut, Stew Leonard’s would always be brought up, without fail. Then, when I would mention that I had never heard of it, there’d be a gasp and a, “Molly you have to go, you in particular would love it!”
The reason they would say this is that I’m known for my love of all things stupidly Americana. This is Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog, the idea that we celebrate old men in top hats removing a rodent from a hole during Groundhogs Day or even food eating contests with hotdogs. I find it all completely ridiculous, but hilarious at the same time. So… when someone told me that there’s a grocery store in Connecticut with singing animatronics, I was hooked.
It took a lot of convincing to get my sister interested in the idea. She is not as warm to the idea of stupid singing things, and she usually just rolls her eyes when I lose my mind over mugs with penguins all over them or Christmas flavored coffee.
“You’re every marketing company’s favorite customer, they make stupid stuff like that for simps like you to buy it,” she tells me.
Yeah… love her.
But, I purchased her a coffee and an egg sandwich and we were off.
You basically get there by driving continuously on Post Road for about 20 minutes. You don’t turn until a large barn emerges from the landscape.
“Well, I guess we’re here!” I said.
My sister shook her head, rolled her eyes and said, “Oh no way!” in such a sarcastic tone that the car was nearly brimming with it.
I guess I deserved it, there was incredibly large orange script all over the building declaring it Stew Leonard’s and the “World’s Largest Dairy Store.”
We started with the pumpkins because it’s freaking Halloween, and how could we not?! They have an incredibly large pumpkin section, and though I ran the idea about snagging some just because, once again… Halloween, the idea of two pumpkins just slowly rotting in my dorm room pushed me away from the idea.
But this was not a problem, since Stew Leonard’s had more than enough sites to keep me distracted.
See, if you’re not aware, it’s set up quite similarly to an Ikea. It’s a long, winding maze, with one singular aisle that wraps into a single extensive line. I can only assume that it takes years to fully get the route down and not take two hours running backwards and forwards, like I do at Trader Joe’s.
My sister and I were there as nothing more than tourists, observing it all like we were at some sort of animal-less zoo. We grabbed some munchkins and laughed at some of the signs that declared a booth just for rice cakes or kettle chips. The bright, handwritten-looking signs and wooden shelves made me feel more like we were dropped off somewhere in 1950s Iowa rather than a block and a half away from the Tiffany & Co. store in Westport.
Just as we were giggling in the dairy section at the turkey sculpture of butter, we froze suddenly, wondering where the childish voices singing some version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was coming from. Low and behold, it was animatronic milk cartons singing this Civil War era tune, with a Stew Leonard twist. I know it sounds crazy reading it, but imagine being there in-person and watching these robot arms move with fake instruments singing in the world’s largest dairy store. So freaking fantastic that I thought this was it.
“Ah, I get why people said I’d like this place.”
But, just as we were turning a corner, there it was in all its glory, Clover the Cow. They’re a brown color, with little white horns, pink ears, a pink nose and large gleaming brown eyes to match. The head peeks out of a little farm and with the press of a bright yellow button, his moo echoes across the aisle.
There are other similar animatronics decorating the store, once in a while we’d just look up and see a trio of big chickens or flipping stuffed animals with the words “we flip for our customers” hung above them.
Meghan Bell, director of public relations of Stew Leonard’s said that, “whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, Stew Leonard’s is a great place to go food shopping! We’re world-famous for our country-fair atmosphere, in-store animatronic shows and customer-is-always-right attitude.”
She goes on to say, “I think college students would love Stew’s prepared meals-to-go and our freshly-baked cookies, muffins and more. Plus, be sure to download our app – you can earn a free ice cream cone for shopping at Stew’s!”
Yes, this store is as close to a fever dream as you’ll get. I wouldn’t recommend anyone stopping here right after hitting up the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore, but if anyone traveling to the United States wants to get a true understanding of how ridiculously extra this country is, Stew Leonard’s is honestly a good pitstop.