I’m a fairly frugal person. I typically buy groceries on sale, shop based on the lowest price per unit weight and seek out generic products or bulk bin purchases. I go to the big chain stores with a list, grab everything I need for the week and get out as quickly as possible. As much as I enjoy preparing and eating food, I dread buying it. In my opinion, grocery shopping is just another chore that, unfortunately, can’t be avoided.
As a self-professed foodie, I find myself perusing the aisles of the smaller — and usually more expensive — grocery stores when I manage to find the time. I go to some of these stores for very specific, but non-essential, products. One small store, Ellwood Thompson, sells the best gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had and, as a sufferer of celiac disease, I appreciate and will gladly pay more for it. This store offers many other unique products, from baking supplies to local kombucha on tap to artisanal cheeses. While it’s expensive, I constantly find new products that I never knew existed and enjoy experimenting with what I can create from them. I’m also grateful for the eclectic group of shoppers (less yuppie and more free-spirited than the average Whole Foods customer) and employees.
Another small store, Strawberry Street Market, is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and easy to miss. I stumbled upon this gem while out for a walk one day, and now specifically plan my walks around when I want to go there — usually multiple times a week. I’m always amused at the random assortment of items they carry. In addition to the typical convenience store items, they have a large wine selection (with some choices from local wineries), locally baked goods and Vegenaise. I love that the cashiers recognize me and carry specific items that I request. I also try to stop by the many local farmers’ markets when the weather is nice — from the large weekly markets to the smaller veggie stands on the outskirts of town. I enjoy sampling the ripest of tomatoes and the juiciest of watermelons, and supporting the farmers who planted them.
Unlike going to the major grocery stores, visiting these smaller stores or farmers’ markets isn’t a chore — it’s an experience. I look forward to taking time out of my busy life to discover new items and appreciate the work of local farmers, artists, bakers and business owners. I enjoy seeing the hard-working artisans and knowing that those who make or grow these products are passionate about their service to the community.
I always leave these local venues in a good mood, feeling creative and inspired. It’s a great opportunity to people watch, appreciate all that Richmond has to offer and enjoy the spirit of people who love doing what they do. Unlike the large chain stores that look the same regardless of their location, every small, local store and market is different. Go one or two blocks in any direction and you’ll find one with different products and a different vibe — a reminder of the diverse group of people who live in the city. While I still begrudgingly do most of my grocery shopping at the big chain stores, I’ll continue supporting these small stores and independent business owners whenever I can — not only for the quality, taste and uniqueness of their products, but also for the experience.
The best thing about buying local fruits and vegetables is trying different things depending on the season. I’m always intrigued by the wide variety of squashes and one of the most versatile is spaghetti squash. This type of squash is easy to find and prepare, plus it makes a great healthy substitute for pasta. One of my favorite dishes involves stuffing portabello mushroom caps with spaghetti squash and baking them with marinara sauce and cheese.