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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Store smell

I was walking down the street near my office yesterday and thought to myself, half subconsciously, "Hey, it smells like a CVS here." Then I looked up, and sure enough, someone was just coming out the door of a CVS pharmacy. What is it that makes all their stores have a distinctive smell? I would be surprised if it were intentional...probably a combination of the carpet, sugary merchandise and various VOCs coming off of vinyls and plastics. Anyway, I think a list of chains with distinctive smells is in order:

> CVS - As discussed above.
> Subway - This one's pretty strong, and can often be detected from a distance. It's quite consistent...I suspect it's the bread they bake on-site, probably with some special chemicals in it to facilitate the shipping/baking of the dough.
> Dairy Queen - Not quite as consistent, but in DQ's walk-in locations, there is usually a light, clean, almost antiseptic scent. I'm guessing it's the ice cream.
> Burger King - No consistent smell inside (though I haven't been in one for years), but the smell of cooking from outside is distinctive among fast food restaurants. They all smell like greasy food, but BK has a much more noticeable charbroil scent.

Hrm, so CVS is the only non-food example I can think of. The phenomenon is much more interesting when its source is mysterious...I bet I'll remember some more later. (Feel free to help me out in the comments.)


lj said...

I know whenever I think ice cream, I think "antiseptic."

I'm with you on BK. KFC is pretty distinquitive. When I went into a McDonalds in Moscow, I was amazed that despite many other differences, it smelled *exactly* like every other McDonald's I'd ever been to ("It's probably copyrighted," notes Hannah). It boggles the mind to imagine the precise Mickey D's Formula frozen potatoes and frying oil being flown over the North Pole to Russia.

Recently H and I were in the Cub Foods at Lake & Hiawatha (with my sister and mom, stocking the dorm room larder), and we were both immediately struck by the smell. "This smells like grocery stores used to!" It especially reminded me of this one my grandma went to. Hannah described it as, "something involving rotting produce and Tupperware." It was very interesting to us both that it was so identifiable, and that grocery stores now do not usually smell like that.

Andy said...

I'd heartily second McDonald's, especially after having worked there for a summer back in high school.

In New York I've become accustomed to the particular garbage smells associated with large buildings, eg the one on 40th Street just south of the NYPL. I can't tell if the garbage comes from the library, Bryant Park, or the eatery in between the two, but it's reliable and at least somewhat distinctive compared to odors generated by other large piles of refuse in the city.

gastropodblue said...

Lush and the Body Shop definitely have a distinctive smell that you can smell from blocks away. All those soaps and body butters joining together to form one uber-scent.


teague said...

LJ, I did think as I typed "antiseptic" that it might only make sense to me...I guess I mean something more along the lines of "neutral, simple and nonspecific," rather than "smells like cleaning fluid." On the old grocery store smell, I know exactly what you mean...I was in this store a while ago in the MD DC burbs that was physically a throwback, and it had that smell to go along with it.

Andy, re: buildings having specific trash smells: It's as if the buildings were giving off pheremones in order to attract mates. I've heard that the lady buildings really dig a guy whose garbage reeks of half-eaten Cosi sandwiches and discarded lattes...shows they have tasteful insides.

Jesse, I have to hold my breath when I walk by those places in a mall...

gastropodblue said...

Heheh...Teague, have you noticed the ads showing up on your blog because of the subject of this post? ;)

teague said...

Um, yes, I have noticed. I don't think this is really demonstrating the magic of Google's ad targeting technology...