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?”
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.