“So you love the city, but where do you grocery shop?”
After two years of living in the city of Cincinnati, that one question persists.
Shoppers accustomed to Costco, Sam’s or a larger-scale Kroger wonder, Where do you grocery shop? Do you walk? Do you drive? If you bought in huge quantities, how do you get everything home? (Disclaimer: When four adult children are in town, I need a little help.)
Others inquire, Do you have plenty of options?
Finally, inevitably, someone asks the dreaded question. Do you go into that store on Vine? Aren’t you afraid?
So, where do I shop? And, am I afraid?
First, the city has a lively, expansive, open-air grocery market. Findlay Market was built in 1855 and is Ohio’s oldest municipal market house.
On a recent visit to Findlay, I bumped into the owner of Daisy Mae’s and discussed her Cincinnati Food Tours. I secured my husband’s Sunday goetta and Italian sausages for Valentine’s Day from Eckerlin’s Meats.
Mr. Madison, of Madison’s at Findlay, and I wished each other “Happy Valentine’s Day” while I purchased radicchio, chicken broth, and shortbread cookies made by Baudry French Pastries, a weekend vendor.
Justin of Zinncinnati hawked roses outside, while soothing my woes over a broken planter. From Churchill’s, I purchased lapsang souchong tea for its backyard tire fire aroma. I munched on a crisp eggroll from Mimi’s and walked home. It was the quintessential experience, like coming home to Mom’s kitchen.
At Findlay, there is a Red Bike station, free one-hour parking and two streetcar stops. Many days, I drag a husband along. Think Sherpa, only married.
Findlay Market includes a farmer’s co-op store, DIRT, selling locally produced comestibles and cottage goods. The Kitchen at Findlay is a proving ground for food entrepreneurs and sustainability. Soon, Epicurean Mercantile Company, a neighborhood grocery store, will open on Elm.
Other options extend to Avril’s on Court Street, a butcher shop that also stocks a variety of fruits and vegetables. Bottle and Basket on Republic Street provides fast carryout for breakfast, lunch and dinner items. New York Groceries on Main Street offers a wide selection for the Pringles- obsessed and other snack items.
In northern Ohio, Drug Mart had everything my father needed. Walgreen’s on Race Street does, too. Addicted to expediency, I enjoy a mindless cup of Keurig and, while waiting on a prescription, discover the store sells the coffee pods. Walgreen’s carries the requisite toilet paper as well as packaged foods for late-night snacks.
Kroger on Vine rounds out my shopping needs. For years, pedestrians stood outside the store and dealt drugs. Some of that activity has disappeared; some has not. But real people shop for real groceries at Kroger on Vine every day.
Most families, with three or four young kids stringing along, lug their plastic bags of groceries back toward home on foot. Living here, I cannot question whether anyone shops at Kroger, when young and old process in and out for weekly supplies.
The quality of fresh fruits and vegetables within that store is on par with what I could have found at my former Kroger. And avocados are always ready for guacamole. Several years ago, our neighbors worked with the Kroger manager to expand its offerings, which now include a small organic section. There is a genuine camaraderie and neighborhood feel not always present in larger locations.
The where and how of grocery shopping in the city are easy questions to answer. But undercurrents to the actual queries surface with each of my experiences.
Looking inside my own pantry stores, I learned a lesson about how much I spend. While in Kroger, a mother pulled down a 59-cent can of generic tomato paste as I reached for the name-brand Hunt’s. What an uncomfortable position to be in, not for her, but me. I didn’t need Hunt’s.
Hunt’s was a brand, that’s all. I became more intentional when shopping alongside someone who was stretching his or her last $5 bill or utilizing SNAP benefits.
During my last outing, I purchased butter and milk to make fudge. A woman behind me joked, “Run out of staples, right?” I stood speechless as I realized the privilege of buying butter and milk to melt into fudge.
To address the fears, I propose that concern comes not from a place of fear, but a fear that one’s station in life will be called into question when confronted with another’s station so vastly different. It has, and it will.
I once overheard a Chicago transplant who was paying for goods at Findlay Market. “I never go to the Kroger on Vine. That place scares me.” I piped up. “Anything I don’t buy here, I get there.” He stood dumbstruck, as if just hit by the L train. Live here first, then judge.
I shop at Findlay for the unrivaled experience of knowing the vendors who serve me. The market is partly funded by the city, so I am giving back. I shop in the smaller outlets when convenient to my path. And when in need, I walk into the Kroger on Vine for tampons, bananas and tips on chili. I acknowledge bystanders with a “How are you,” brace for the “Not as fine as you today,” and laugh. We all still need to eat.
If everyone mobbed Kroger on Vine, the “other” Kroger, the corporate one located mere blocks away, would provide a shopping experience to stock what we really need – hot Cheetos and avocados, fewer questions and more answers.
Annette Januzzi Wick has lived in Over-the-Rhine since 2014. This excerpt first appeared in her blog, Getting’ My City On, at www.annettejanuzziwick.com. She covers a wide range of topics about her urban experiences, including capturing her walks in all 52 neighborhoods preceding Cincinnati’s 2017 elections. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org