My Final Words on Groceries in the City

After eight months of living in the city of Cincinnati, a question persists from all kinds of friends and associates living in the inner or outer rings. “So you love living in the city, but where do you grocery shop?”

Elm-Street-EsplanadeBefore I answer the question, I sit back and assess. Is the question coming from a place of curiosity, naiveté or fear? Usually, it’s a combination of the three.

People who have a general curiosity about living in the city are also accustomed to shopping at Costco or Sam’s or Harper’s Point Kroger or Meijer. They genuinely want to know, Where do you grocery shop? Do you walk? They want to know the mechanics. Do you drive there? If you purchased huge quantities, like one might at Meijer, how would you get everything home? I don’t. Shop like I did at Meijer, that is. (Disclaimer, when all four adult children are in town, I need a little help with toilet paper.)

Or, the inquirers might wonder, I’ve heard a lot about the need for a grocery store downtown, but isn’t there one on Vine, near you? So, then it’s a question of educating the consumer on options, which requires a little exploration and sweat on the part of the shopper regardless. Consider if I had moved to Raleigh, I would have expended energy finding the locations that served me best.

And finally, inevitably, the dreaded ask. Do you go into that store on Vine? Aren’t you afraid? What I hear from questioners is not whether I am afraid, but would they be? People who wouldn’t know Vine St. from Main St. admonish me. It’s not safe to shop at the Kroger’s on Vine. Or, Don’t walk your dog, at night, all alone. They’re not worried about my fear. They are concerned about their own.

So, where do I shop? And, am I afraid?

First, and foremost, we have a grocery market in the city. Its called Findlay Market. Founded in 1852, it is Ohio’s oldest continuing operation market. I shop there

On a most recent visit to Findlay, I chatted with the owner of Daisy Mae’s, looking to move their produce stand inside. He shared with me that another produce vendor had recently died in his sleep. I ordered cannolis from Cake Rack, and discussed the merits of the “original” filling. I bought lettuce from Mr. Madison, walked through a few “standers” jawing at each other across the midway of the market, stopped to say Hello to Justin, whose flower fixing skills are out of this world, discussed the merits of Lapsang Souchong tea at Churchill’s (no one in my family will utter the name, for fear it will conjure up the smell of a backyard tire fire), bought an eggroll from Mimi’s – because they have the best. And walked home. It was the quintessential experience, and everything I always hoped it would be. It was like coming home to Mom’s kitchen.

If I am seeking specific items, I ask. Most Findlay vendors know the product lines of other vendors, and are willing participants in the success of all merchants, a rare entity. And if Findlay Market does not carry the item, or the farmers don’t show up with it, then I ask myself, Do I need it? It is good for me, if it’s not in season and showed up from Venezuela only two hours ago and is still frozen or green?

To answer some of the logistical questions, there is the shared Red Bike station at Findlay, plenty of free, one-hour parking and a planned streetcar stop. Also, I drag a husband along. Think Sherpa, only married.

And soon Findlay Market’s expansion will include a farmer’s co-op store, DIRT, selling only locally produced vegetables, meat, dairy, cheese, and cottage goods at Findlay Market.

Other smaller markets, such as Avril’s on Court Street, carry a variety of fruits and vegetables. Picnic and Pantry will soon be opening in OTR , to provide fast carryout: hot foods, fresh salads, breakfast, organic juices – all affordable and quick, according to their press, all to complement Findlay Market’s offerings and hours.

Second, I grew up in the Drug Mart world of northern Ohio. Drug Mart is similar to Walgreen’s. Drug Mart had everything my dad needed, and he was often designated as the runner, including tampons. (Sorry Dad). My point is, I wandered into my Race Street Walgreen’s to buy shaving items and discovered that the store sold Keurig coffee pods. To the average Joe, this might not be a big deal. But because of my addiction to expediency, I tend to enjoy myself a good cup of Keurig. I had just run out, and wondered where to buy Keurig pods. They also carry plenty of dry goods, packaged foods, for when I am in need of late night snacks.

Finally, for the remainder of shopping needs, there is Kroger’s on Vine. For years, many pedestrians who stood outside the store were most likely dealing drugs. Most of that activity has disappeared, due to development, policing and the closing off of 15th Street near that intersection. There is a small parking lot in front as well as a Red Bike station positioned for those looking to hop on and off.

But real people shop for real groceries at Kroger on Vine everyday. I watch families with three or four young kids stringing along, each toting a plastic bag or two of groceries. Living here, its no longer valid to question whether anyone shops at Kroger, when I watch young and old process in and out for weekly supplies.

Kroger’s has everything, and what they don’t carry, I don’t need. I love the vibe in the store. There is a true camaraderie not present in larger locations. During Super Bowl weekend, I was standing in line with my chili fixin’s, and was told by one patron I needed to go back and get the spicy beans for “real chili.” I went to the shelves and did as I was told.

The quality of fresh fruits and vegetables within that store is on par with what I could have found at my former Kroger’s in Symmes Township. And the avocadoes are always ready for guacamole. They carry maple syrup and Keurig cups. Batteries and tampons. Several years ago, a few of our neighbors actually worked with the Kroger manager to expand a few of their offerings, which Kroger did

I frequent the store for bananas or sugar or shredded cheese. Perhaps as a society we have grown too accustomed to ease and access. We have lost the monikers of hunter and forager and expect our groceries to overwhelm our senses.

So, I can answer for the where, and the how. But there are undercurrents to the actual questions that never surface.

A lesson learned, and this is after looking inside my own pantry stores, had nothing to do with how much I need, but how much I spend. In Kroger’s, I watched a mother pull down a 59-cent generic can of tomato paste when I was reaching for the more expensive Hunts. What an uncomfortable position to be in, not for her, but me. I didn’t need Hunts. Hunts was a brand, that’s all. I become more intentional about my own selections when shopping alongside someone who was stretching their last five-dollar bill, or utilizing food stamps.

As for the fear, I suspect most questions come not from a place of fear for life, but a fear that one’s station in life will be called into question when confronted with another’s station in life so vastly different. It will.

I recently overheard a young Chicagoan transplant, while paying for goods at Dean’s at Findlay Market. He muttered, “I would never go to the Kroger’s 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.

So, shop at Findlay. It’s partly owned by the city, and it’s a treasure worth keeping, as are the vendors. And when in need, I challenge the inquirers to walk into the Kroger’s on Vine, and buy a candy bar or hot Cheetos. Get a few tips on chili or the weather. Acknowledge the stander-by with a How are you, and welcome the Not as fine as you today, and laugh. We all still need to eat.

And if everyone mobbed Kroger’s on Vine, perhaps the “other” Kroger, the big one at the opposite end of Vine, would step up and provide a shopping experience like no other in this city, or any other, one that would benefit all and stock what we really need – hot Cheetos and avocados, less questions and more answers.

* With apologies for not mentioning Park + Vine, a wonderful collection of organic and environmentally safe grocery shopping experience.

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14 thoughts on “My Final Words on Groceries in the City

  1. phebek108 March 21, 2015 / 11:47 am

    This is real, Annette, gutsy. I like it especially all the description and detail. It makes downtown come alive.

    • Raphaela March 23, 2015 / 2:32 am

      I do shop Kroger on Vine without incident…

  2. Michael March 21, 2015 / 12:58 pm

    Welcome to the City.

  3. claremzb March 21, 2015 / 2:19 pm

    Thanks Annette – beautifully written!

  4. Cynthia Nelson Zulla March 21, 2015 / 2:36 pm

    I love this! When I first moved down here (West End) 3 years ago; I was kind of on the “bandwagon” of we need a “real” grocery downtown. Now? Not at all. I shop daily at Findlay. I also get my sundries from CVS on Walnut & 7th. There’s a hardware store on Main across from the Courthouse where I can get them to order just about anything I need. And I hear you on the “do I really need it?” It usually can wait. You do have to re-think your shopping habits if you move downtown – but it’s been an improvement in my life – I buy only what I need, I meet and talk to lots of people and it’s stimulated my creativity! And I do shop at the Vine Street Kroger if need be…I just don’t like their parking situation – that section of Vine is super busy traffic wise and that’s the only part that scares me. I hit the Corryville Kroger on my way home from work up in Hyde Park – much more convenient parking. Awesome post!

  5. Bob little March 21, 2015 / 4:13 pm

    Not scary..just good city life and interaction with people from all parts of life.
    Maybe had we not gotten lost in suburbia and “attitudes,” too frequently spawned there, we would have no Fergusons or however you spell the name of that sad place

  6. executivedreamer March 21, 2015 / 6:17 pm

    Reblogged this on cincyopolis and commented:
    Thank-goodness – somebody with some sense finally speaks up for the Kroger’s on Vine.

  7. Jeanie March 21, 2015 / 9:27 pm

    Thank you Annette Januzzi Wick for saying positive things about Vine St Kroger. My hard working husband is the store manager and has implemented many of the improvements you mention. The employees do have camaraderie that you will not find in larger stores. I’m very proud of the improvements my husband has made there. Yes the parking is not the best, but it is a safe store, a clean store, and more than likely the employees know you by name.

  8. Sally March 21, 2015 / 10:52 pm

    I feel that I could have written this blog post! As recent transplants to downtown, my husband and I just assumed that shopping would be at Findlay Market, Walgreen’s, and Kroger’s on Vine. And it’s working perfectly for us. Red Bikes have made life even easier since I can now get more in one shopping trip with the nice big basket on the front. And having met the manager of the Kroger store, I know that he is very interested in stocking items that people want to buy. So thanks, Annette, I’m sharing this will all my suburban friends!

  9. Thurman Wenzl March 21, 2015 / 11:49 pm

    I live in Oakley, also in the city, and walk to the Hyde Park Kroger for food – from my home about 4 blocks west, half way to Rookwood. That’s where I walk to get coffee, and several days a week I walk south for about 10 minutes to the Hyde Park library. So there are a few neighborhoods besides downtown where it’s possible to run some errands without using a car every time. I’ll defer to another time complaints about crazy investment decisions, making Oakley less affordable.

  10. Ellen Austin-Li March 22, 2015 / 2:16 am

    This is great, Annette! I just went down to Findley last week, and am always so surprised when I go there – surprised that I don’t go there more often (it’s a short 15 minute drive for me). You’re right, it’s a treasure! (And you know I love lapsang suochong).
    I am glad that you go into the Vine St. Kroger. If OTR is truly to become a place of socioeconomic diversity, then there has to be a real mixing, otherwise it will become a district of segregated blocks. You and Mark are true trailblazers, and I love you for it!

  11. Casey Coston July 22, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    The urban myth of “where do you buy groceries” has been propagated for time immemorial. I shop at Vine Street Kroger probably 5 times a week. And Findlay just as much. Maybe more. Back in 2008, I wrote this column, which is still just as relevant today. Back then I lived in North Avondale, so I did not use the Vine Street Kroger at all. But the rest of it is still relevant. http://www.soapboxmedia.com/features/24soapdishgrocery.aspx

    • thesewritingshoes July 22, 2015 / 5:20 pm

      Wow. Yes, its still all relevant. I love this line: It is simply a weak excuse to not move downtown, as well as “this little place needs to survive and flourish.” More so than saving old buildings, the OTR movement should be and hopefully is about saving businesses that would otherwise fold!

  12. Jeff Wilson July 22, 2015 / 3:39 pm

    Although I live in Clifton, I have been shopping at that Kroger ever since I found the wonderful second-hand store a block north during the previous millennium. In other words, I went there when it was technically “less safe.” No problem ever from anyone. And, I’ve made friends at the store and with the merchants outside. I like going there. Often I don’t buy anything but I still stay a half hour. The OTR Kroger is a major asset, not just for OTR but downtown.

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