The world's weirdest grocery stores

When it comes to over-the-top grocery stores, it looks like the good old U.S. of A. has one more source of national pride, as it seems we just may be leading the world when it comes to turning grocery shopping into a major source of entertainment. While grocers all over the world offer premier shopping experiences, in most countries they still seem to be focused on the experience of selecting and purchasing food. While there's always a certain "off the wall" factor for any American shopping abroad, most of this seems to revolve around the unfamiliar food items themselves, and shopping is pretty much shopping.

Where certain other countries excel, though, is in the aesthetics, as there are a few international supermarkets where the surroundings themselves make a shopping trip feel like a museum visit. In the U.S., however, there's been a push to turn supermarkets into destinations, and a recent Grocery Dive article speaks of stores adding such perks as yoga classes, in-store bars, and live music. While the two non-U.S. supermarkets on this list of world's weirdest shopping experiences make the cut due to their amazing settings alone, the domestic contenders had to go really overboard by turning their stores into grocery theme parks.

Eliseevsky Store

Eliseevsky, a supermarket located in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), is located right in the city center on Tverskaya Street. Inside, it boasts an impressive array of gourmet goods including house-made pastries, imported wines and cheeses, and of course caviar (a sign in the store announces that this delicacy is "always in stock," according to food and travel blog That's What She Had).

It's not the selection, but the location, that makes Eliseevsky one of a kind, however. It was built as an actual palace for an official in the court of Ekaterina II (known to most of us as Catherine the Great), and in the 19th century served as a salon hosting such literary legends as Turgenev and Pushkin. While Eliseevsky was transformed into a grocery store in 1901, its baroque opulence somehow survived two world wars, a revolution, the entire Soviet era, and a nation's turbulent transition back to capitalism. But survive it did, and now Eliseevsky is thriving 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as possibly the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous grocery store on the planet.

IGA des Sources Cap-Rouge

Yet another store where grocery shopping is more of a cultural experience than a chore is the IGA des Sources Cap-Rouge in Quebec, where the décor tends more toward the modern than the majestic. Canadian Grocer chose this supermarket as one of its "25 Stores to Visit Before You Die," noting its impressive size (43,000 square feet) as well as its light pine and grey stone façade designed to harmonize with the forest that surrounds it.

What really makes this store unique, however, is the collection of abstract art that adorns not only walls but ceilings. These paintings give the store more the feeling of an art gallery than a grocery, and they are highlighted by decorative lighting fixtures that were specially designed for each different department. When this store opened in 2009, they carried out the arts-related theme (as well as supporting local performers) by hosting Quebec-based postmodern circus troupe Cirque du Soleil.

Stew Leonard's

One of America's wildest grocery shopping experiences can be found at Stew Leonard's, a small regional chain whose flagship store is in Norwalk, Connecticut but which also has stores in Danbury and Newington, Connecticut as well as branches in New York and New Jersey. While this small chain began in 1969 as just a dairy store, they soon expanded into offering a full range of groceries (though a small one — just 2,200 items, to an average supermarket's 30,000+).

So what makes it so weird? Just about everything, really. While Trader Joe's might think they're bringing the wacky with their aloha-shirted employees and pseudo-tropical décor, Stew Leonard's really goes all out with costumed characters, a petting zoo, animatronics, and in-store entertainment. All this hoopla seems to be working well for the grocer once dubbed the "Disneyland of Dairy Stores," as they've been awarded a Guinness World Record for having "the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in the United States."

Jungle Jim's International Market

Finally, we come to Jungle Jim's, the Fairfield, Ohio store that The Daily Meal calls "the craziest grocery store in America." Now this is actually a super-sized grocery store, 300,000 square feet with a full range of offerings including such bizarre delicacies as rattlesnake meat, kangaroo jerky, an 8-foot long gummy python, and entire pig and goat heads (we'd really rather not know what these are used for).

It's not the wild and crazy food offerings that put Jungle Jim's over the top, though. It's the fact that, from the outside, at least, it more closely resembles an amusement park or perhaps a jungle-themed mini-golf course than a grocery store. They've even got animatronics, including a lion who sings Elvis songs (via Engage3). The ambiance extends to the store's interior, as well, particularly when it comes to the international areas — Canadian Grocer notes that each European country represented has a mini-storefront made to resemble that country's architecture, and the Mexican area features giant sombreros. Even the canned soup display gets special treatment, with a Campbell's soup can character riding high above the aisle on a swing. All this weirdness seems to be working well for Jungle Jim's, as the store is visited by over 80,000 shoppers each week.