The 24-hour stop 'n' schmooze

Times Staff Writer

Hollywood filmmaker Adam Barker came to this quaint snowy town, like so many others of his ilk, "pimping" a script. He worked the usual parties but didn't get far until he stopped at the local grocery store. There, in the beer aisle, he saw his chance: a producer picking up a six-pack.

"I was actually able to get a business card and pass a script," he says, his smile framed by a few days' growth of a beard. "You gotta get them on the mellow level.... Their guards are up at the premieres."

Barker isn't alone in his discovery. Albertsons, the 24-hour grocery store, has become the impromptu meeting place for the cell-phone-and-laminated-film-credential set that swarms Park City during two weeks in January. Though there's a clear hierarchy at the innumerable cocktail parties and movie premieres, the grocery store is the great equalizer. Here, everyone (and their personal assistants) is stocking up on essentials: bottled water, sandwich meats, gourmet breads and, according to store managers, yogurt.

The store, which opened in 1987, is in a shopping center on one of the city's main thoroughfares -- Park Avenue -- next door to the Yarrow Hotel, which houses one of the busiest Sundance Film Festival movie theaters. The market is a vast warehouse of goods not unlike any other suburban market, except for the fact that during January the aisles look more like Brooklyn or West Hollywood.

The cashiers have a keen eye for the out-of-towners. "It's the black coats," says cashier Stacie Perez, during a lull Thursday night, her arms piled high with groceries. "You'll see 'em, and it's the attitude, like, 'Hey! I'm here for Sundance!' It's an excitement."

A-list celebrity sightings in the aisles are rare, staff members say. One can only assume that during the festival, it's the assistants who do the shopping. Oh sure, Robert Redford comes in occasionally. And lately, everybody's seen talk-show host Montel Williams. "Somebody from the deli said they saw Toni Braxton," says cashier Doyl Applegate.

Aleta Phillips stands next to a display of "special" breads and waves a hand toward the potato rosemary and sourdough walnut, which sells for $2.99 a loaf. Phillips stocks up on these when festival time rolls around. "They like the hearty, healthy foods," she says.

One such customer, Jamal Countess, stands nearby at the deli, looking over the reheated fried chicken. The Brooklyn-based photographer has worked 14-hour days during the last two weeks, standing out in the cold awaiting the next star arrival.

For him and other New Yorkers, Albertsons is somewhat exotic, with its spacious aisles and wide selection. For Countess, the store offers a respite from the daily grind. "I've come here almost once a day," he says. "I could really see myself being here, chilling out, shopping for a couple of hours."

Of course, the small town store doesn't offer the variety of a Manhattan-area market. "I came here yesterday, and I went to the pre-made sandwiches and all they had was turkey," he says with a dismissive hand motion. "No cheese or lettuce. Just turkey. In New York, people make a sandwich made to order at 4 in the morning."

While the festival crowds bring increased business and a touch of glamour to the grocery store's fluorescent world, Applegate appears unmoved. The 20-year-old stands behind the coffee counter wincing at the gusts of cold air from the nearby sliding glass doors. "I haven't had a night off in 12 nights," he says. The only notable difference he's seen since the festival came to town? He puts his hand on a jar littered with a few dollar bills and lots of coins and says, "The tips are worse."

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