by Kevin Coupe

I've been doing this a long time, and I've visited thousands of stores all over the world. No matter where I am, I always find myself asking the same questions:

Would I shop here? Could I shop here?

Now, it isn't quite that simple. When I'm in a store, I have to filter those reactions through an understanding of the marketplace demographics, since I recognize that not everybody shops like me, or has the same preferences and interests. But I'm always looking for that basic, visceral appeal that a great store has.

During a recent trip to Washington State, I found it. Specifically, I found it at two Metropolitan Market stores - one in Tacoma, and the other in its newest store, in Sammamish.

In the Tacoma store, on Procter Street (pictures above),the first thing one sees is a bakery counter that wraps itself around the wall, associates fully engaged with sampling and selling products, and an array of great-looking baked goods that encourage nothing so much as a gnawing hunger.

It isn't an isolated experience. The produce looks great, and the prepared foods spectacular. Most of all, the Procter Metropolitan Market brims with the kind of energy that comes from an engaged staff and excited shoppers who know they're lucky enough to be shopping someplace special.

(As a point of comparison, there is a major chain supermarket across the street. The parking lot and aisles there were far less crowded, and the first thing that greets one entering the store on a Saturday is the aroma of rotisserie chicken that's been on the spit way too long.)

Below, you'll see pictures of Metropolitan Market's Sammamish store, opened less than two months ago. It has a different design package than the Procter store - less wood, more sleek and gleaming steel and glass, but no less impressive. It feels more airy than the Procter store, but on a Sunday afternoon it had almost as much energy ... and again, it did that thing that every good food store should do, which is to make the customer hungry.

Metropolitan Market doesn't tend to get a lot of headlines or attention, but it should, because the company runs terrific stores.

If I lived there, it is where I would shop. For me, that's the highest praise. And an enormously pleasurable Eye-Opener.