Sunday, August 10, 2008

Filling Our Grocery Needs

From time to time, I like to fit in a post that actually addresses my living in Misery. In between the beer tastings, rock shows, and intolerant rants, I feel the need to address an issue that is uniquely COMO. Today, that issue has to do with the grocery choices in this town.

The Good
Since I rarely say anything positive about this place, I decided start with the good stuff. For a relatively small "city" in the middle of a state that could be seen as the buckle of the Bible Belt, COMO has decent variety. There are local and not-so-local outlets that provide for most of our culinary needs. Here are a few highlights...

The Columbia Farmers Market opens every Saturday (April-November), Monday, and Wednesday (May-October). From friends who have been to several farmers markets, they tell me ours is their favorite. There are delicious tomatoes and peaches available right now, as well as plenty of organic meat from April to November. In fact, we usually buy our Thanksgiving turkey at the market. Soon, there will be a new pavilion built to make our market permanent.

For all your specialty food and cheese needs, head to World Harvest Foods. Despite some bad press a few years back (Let's just say it's not easy being Muslim in the Midwest since 9/11.), the store enjoys steady patronage from COMO's cheese lovers. Besides the crazy variety of che
eses, one can stock up on aged balsamic vinegars and gourmet chocolate.

COMO is the land of big box chain stores. It's a fact with which we have to live. Since we have to look to these monstrous stores for some of our nutrition, it's important to keep in mind that some evils are more necessary than others. The Hy-Vee is one of those necessary evils. They are the only grocery stores that can take on Super Wal-Mart (more on them later). Plus, they have a decent health foods section and liquor store.

The Bad
I know that I will get death-threats for this, but I feel we in COMO need to come to terms with our health food store situation. Right now, people who like to spend their grocery money at locally-owned health food stores have two options: Clover's and the Root Cellar. Clover's now has two very nice locations, but their selection is limited and their prices are ridiculously high, too high to make this a weekly stop. Then there's the Root Cellar. I honestly have not been there in a long time. There's something about getting sick from eating a chicken that was questionably refrigerated that makes one think twice about stopping in again. I know people love these places, I just
don't see their worth.
Our closest Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are two hours away. With gas prices what they are, it's just not feasible to make that trip very often anymore. With that said, there are regular caravans of COMO-ians to STL for their Trader Joe fix. I'd guarantee that if a Trader Joe's set up shop in COMO, the shelves would never stay full. Of course, a Whole Foods would be just as welcome in filling those spots in our stomachs reserved for exotic fruits, organic meats, and hard-to-find microbrews, which leads me to my next point...

We need a decent beer shop. I know that beer does not fall under the category of necessary grocery items, but we are in desperate need of some good brews in this town. Of course, it is getting better, but I'd still love to have something like Seattle's Bottleworks on Ninth Street to swing by for an IPA craving or a hoppy barley wine. Actually, if I had a million dollars, I'd start my own shop (or brew pub), but that isn't happening any time soon.

The Ugly
We have a little, but certainly not a lot of choice when it comes to groceries in COMO. What we do have is Wal-Mart. Our little town of 90K or so has a whopping three Super Wal-Marts, plus one Sam's Club. It should also be noted that a good portion of the Wal-Mart brood live in our town (or, more accurately, south of town in their mansions). This strangle-hold on the local economy might be why a store like Whole Foods hasn't set up shop. R and I may own our home, but Wal-Mart owns the rest of COMO.

I feel like COMO is ready for a grocery revolution! Or there are some changes around the corner. Hy-Vee is taking Wal-Mart head-on. Shortly after the evil empire built a new Super across the street from the lone Hy-Vee, the Iowa chain announced they would take over two abandoned buildings from previous Wal-Mart wars, bringing them even in COMO stores.

If this isn't enough, we all can do our part by begging Trader Joe's to build a store in COMO. Just go here and leave a message that begs and pleads with TJ to come our way. Even if you don't live here, you could request a TJ for COMO and tell them I sent you, or not.

Hopefully as COMO passes the 100K plateau, someone will realize that all of our grocery needs are not met and something new is needed. Until then, we'll make do with our farmers market, Hy-Vee, and cheese shop.


scotty said...

Flankchomper: complaining about grocery stores in Columbia is a worthy pasttime, but only for us east-siders. It's like a 16-hour drive from East Campus to Hy-Vee or Gerbes or Schnucks. Hell, the St. Louis Trader Joe's is probably closer.

Compared to our horrific plight, you have no case, and should actually be forbidden by law from speaking on the subject.

...two places you forgot to mention under "Good": Chong's Oriental Market, and Campus Middle Eastern, both downtown. The latter is packed and affordable and run by the genial and knowledgeable Yusef.

There's another international market in town I won't name, its prices make Clover's look like a soup kitchen, and so far its owner has answered four food questions for me -- all incorrectly. In all four cases I could see in his face that he didn't know the answer, was clearly making one up, and research later bore this out in each case. It's pretty weird.

Example: "Do you carry berbere? It's a spice, used in Ethiopian foods."

Owner looks frozen, panicked, reaches out and pulls a bag of dried fruit off the wall: "Barberries. You must mean barberries."

"Uh, no, it's a spice, not a fruit."

(nodding vigorously) "Barberries. You want barberries."

Pizza Cottontail said...

Are there still two farmers markets in CoMo? Once upon a time about ten years ago, there used to be one farmer's market, but there were two factions. As I understand it (and I could be wrong about this; it's been years since I talked with anyone who was there pre-split), faction #1 consisted of folks who believed in sustainable farming practices. Faction #2 took the more bottom-line approach. The two couldn't reconcile their differences and split into two farmer's markets. Faction #1 has the one by the rec center; #2 was (last time I checked) by an antique mall.