I confess: I like buying groceries in Carbondale
May 18, 2014
Time to say something that is generally taboo in Carbondale.
Here goes: I like the City Market in Carbondale. In fact, grocery shopping in town is great.
I realize there are many who adamantly disagree and feel the need to drive to Glenwood Springs or Basalt to buy their groceries.
Much of their ire is focused on City Market Carbondale. The perception is that the store is out of date, parking difficult, management indifferent to local demand and the food is somehow inferior to the food in City Markets in neighboring towns. So they spend 30 minutes or more driving back and forth to Basalt and Glenwood Springs where they can shop at a different City Market, and indulge their organic needs at Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage. When they do that, however, they are leaving behind some amazing food choices.
There are four markets/delis — Garcia's, the carniceria, the tortilleria and Teresa's — that offer Mexican fare and affordable groceries and produce. On the organic front, Carbondale has great choices at the Carbondale Community Food Co-op and The Annex next to Sopris Wine and Liquors. Additionally, there are countless CSAs, where farmers deliver produce and other foods each week to paying customers.
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The Food Co-op on Main Street has the best-tasting selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables in this part of the valley — in and out of season. Yes, Whole Foods has a bigger produce section, but it also has a very expansive (and expensive) view of what is actually local. And, worse, it places organic and nonorganic produce in difficult to discern patterns that are quite confusing.
The carniceria on Highway 133 is Carbondale's local butcher. I recently bought a couple of thin-sliced, smoked pork chops there for about $3. It has some of the best salsa you can imagine, too, but if you want chocolate from Oaxaca, you better go to Garcia's.
In many ways, the specialized food choices in Carbondale are representative of the local economies in small towns abroad that people wax poetic about upon coming home. They are the alternative to the standard corporate model that repeats itself across the United States.
That said, I still like City Market Carbondale. (I imagine that half of you are either laughing or scowling, while the other half is wondering what the big deal is.)
The people who work there are friendly every single time I walk in the store, and I can find help when I need it. The parking is easier at City Market Carbondale than it is in either Glenwood or Basalt. Period.
Also, when you walk into the Carbondale market, you are presented with food while in Basalt and Glenwood Springs you are presented with cash registers and the inherently grubby activity of exchanging of money. I realize that City Market Carbondale is after my money too, but it's much more pleasant encountering fresh produce when I walk into the supermarket.
Whether I'm looking for a bunch of bananas, a quart of berries, jicama or a head of lettuce, the food is usually quite fresh. True, the store is a bit oddly shaped, and some of the sections are smaller than corresponding sections of the big box style stores in Basalt and Glenwood. But, really, do we need a bigger selection of soda and ice cream?
I'll let you in on a secret — the fresh fish at City Market Carbondale is the best in the valley. No kidding. I spent 15 years living on Puget Sound and ate a lot of fresh fish, and I'm telling you the best fish guy in the valley works in Carbondale. It's where I go every time for salmon, tuna, tilapia and cod.
Here's the rub: Over and over I hear from people who say there was this product or the other that has been discontinued, and when they inquired, store management was unresponsive. I had that experience once with some organic soap product that disappeared in 2002 and was replaced by a less satisfying Kroger label product. I walked away pissed off that the store manager didn't give me the answer I was seeking. But thinking about it a dozen years later, it's not really that big a deal.
The fact is, Carbondale does a fantastic job feeding two distinct populations, Anglo and Hispanic. And between all our choices, I can see no reason to shop anywhere else.
Allyn Harvey writes monthly for the Post Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.