For a few minutes at the Co-op, every once in a while, we try to remember things like having fun. It is a hard thing to do, but luckily, there are many Owners who are willing to play along. I recently took to the aisles to subject various shoppers to some random questions.
The first, and perhaps, most important question was, if the Co-op had a dating service, would you use it? A smattering of answers were fired back, mostly ranging from “no, I’m married” to “yes, I’m married.” One anonymous responder suggested that they’d use it “to date employees so I have an unlimited supply of falafel wraps.” Korey [no last name given] said, “No, it is already a dating service—so many people come in just to cruise.” Annabel Lee adds, “If I were single, yes. There are some very attractive people in this neighborhood.” Meadow, one of our youngest participants, suggested, “Maybe in ten years.” Another anonymous responder said, “I do; it’s called your produce section.” Then Carrie Welter brought up a good point, “If I was single, yes. It would have to include questions about dessert preferences.”
When asked what was the most scandalous gossip you’ve heard in the store, many people suggested that they had not ever heard of such things. However, Bev Buhr kept it real, said she heard “something about me 25 years ago.” Then came the assertions about the Co-op’s product choices. An anonymous responder heard that the fruit wasn’t really organic, while Jordan Elletsen heard “all the meat is from factory farms” and Luke Davis found out “that blue cheese has mold in it?” Of course, grocery gossip tends to circle back to staff members. Kerri Mack mentioned that she “heard some insider gossip on who is encroaching on whose crush but I won’t divulge any names.” Joe Manley asserted, “I am not comfortable answering—I’m friends with Lindsey Hardy [Willy West staff member]. OMG.” Laura McNeill had different things on her mind: “I can never pay attention to that stuff anymore; I’m always wondering if my kids’ hands are in parts of the bulk section they shouldn’t be.”
This question generated a lot of excited answers: if you had to compete in an eating contest over one food item in the store, what would it be? From clementines to tapioca, pie to pistachios, Carr Valley cheese to Coconut Bliss bars and mixed berry energy squares, there were a range of tastes explored. More than one person (unsurprisingly) suggested chocolate, but even more popular were avocados. Our deli and bakery also had some standouts, including chocolate chip cookies, grasshopper brownies, sheba bars, blueberry muffins, carrot cashew salad and curry chicken salad. Sarah Tops confesses “those delicious natural cheese puffs, which are a secret addiction of mine. Okay, maybe not so secret.” Annabel Lee gives her recipe for winning: “the Willy Street Co-op homefries for sure, plus avocado, Sriracha, and Annie’s ketchup.” Erika Jarden mentions “the seaweed snacks! I mow those down like a boss.” Dahrl A. Hill Killerlain would pick “fried tofu” while Jordan Elletsen chooses “balsamic vinegar.” An anonymous responder thinks strategically: “snap pea crisps, because they’re made out of air. My mouth would be bleeding at the end of it though.” In an eating contest, Lexa Dundore says, “bring me the sushi” and bring Jean Jackson and Andrew [no last name given] “blood oranges.” Cindy Breunig is ready to enter a “Rio Star grapefruit-eating competition. I can’t get enough of them!” Tyson Cole suggests he would compete if the contest involved “cooked bacon.” And finally, Kerri Mack chooses “lemon cheesecake bars. If they were more nutritious I would eat them exclusively.”
Making a mess
Now it’s time for the confessions. Have you ever made a mess or spill and pretended it wasn’t you?
- Lexa Dundore: I’ve never made a mess in the bulk aisle, but I have lost control of the levers and ended up with a MASSIVE quantity of almonds because I was too embarrassed to leave them behind.
- Sarah Tops: I have sometimes cleaned up other people’s messes, but only if they’re small!
- Laura McNeill: No, once you become a parent, you get used to cleaning up when it happens, or else it gets stepped in and tracked all over
- Jordan Elletsen: I make it a habit.
- Erika Jarden: No. That was my daughter, I swear!
- Anonymous responder: We all have blood on our hands. But really, I dropped one of the fresh turkeys once, it was super gross.
- Joe Manley: It was the cat!
Now, we turn to a serious inquiry. If you were locked in the Co-op overnight, what would you do? Besides eating everything and calling the police (?!), a few interesting ideas & schemes emerged. An anonymous responder fantasized about sticking their hands in all the bulk bins, “the texture would be so nice.” Mary M. would “look for Chad Vader. (He works the night shift, right?)” Kristal Presser might “make a ton of juices” while Maggie Layden “invent[s] smoothie recipes.” Ryan [no last name given] would “eat all the raspberries!” and Janis Story-deBoer would “explore the health and wellness aisles. I could be there forever.” Laura McNeill might “read the magazines and the Katz fermentation book I’ve been drooling over every time I walk past it.” One anonymous responder (from Willy West) imagines they would “sample wine” while another “use[s] the cashier belt like a treadmill.” Paris [no last name given] definitely would “have a party and a food fight” which is perfect for Joe Manley, who would have a “dance party. Duh.” Carrie Welter might also be invited, as she would “cook things wrapped in bacon while having a dance party in the kitchen.” Kerri Mack and Lily “would make a strawberry yogurt slip & slide” while Jordan Elletsen “clean[s] the bathrooms.” Erika Jarden might “light candles and incense, draw pictures in the kid’s section, eat chips and drink sodas and fall asleep.” Perhaps she would be locked in with Lexa Dundore, who would “build a fort out of paper products, assemble and light all of the candles, and empty your stock of gelato.”
Hiding in the aisles
The next question involved an all-too-familiar scenario: You’re at the Co-op shopping, in a hurry, and see a chatty friend. What product or food item are you most likely to hide behind? Sarah Tops uses a bit of strategy: “I see myself ducking around the coffee display, towards the meat aisle. (This especially works well if your chatty friend is vegan, and will thus not be inclined to follow).” Cindy Prentice chooses “the aisle that has the deodorant spray” while Meadow selects “the kid’s place.” One anonymous responder would “try to jam my body into the broom closet in the bulk aisle” while another “would cover my face in juniper needles, or pretend to be engrossed in smelling candles.” Maggie Layden might duck behind the “calendar rack” and Cori Mattli would hide behind “a big box of cereal, most likely Full Circle Wheat Squares.” Bread also seems to be a popular option for disguising people. Kerri Mack casually mentions that “the corner by the sourdough baguettes is a perfect hiding place,” and Lisa Nelson “would put a big loaf of bread in front of my face and keep walking.” While Jordan Elletsen ducks behind “the meat counter,” Annabel Lee would “curve around dairy then see which way they went and high-tail it the other way!” Lexa Dundore decides that “my produce of choice for hiding behind is definitely bundled Swiss chard—the rainbow of colors help to blend in with your surroundings.”
Next up: what has been your most creative use of produce? Fritzie recommends “sauteeing sprouted mung beans and using them as my ‘crunch’ in a salad.” Dahrl A. Hill-Killerlain has made “nacho soup;” “fruit pizza” was a creative turn for Tyson Cole, and Bev Buhr concocted an adventurous “raspberry, kale, cocoa, banana, coconut smoothie.” Janis Story-deBoer has “turned veg stir-fry leftovers into veg stew! Yum!” One anonymous responder has experimented with “bok choy smoothies” while another made “a path of grapes that lead to nowhere.” Jordan Elletsen creatively “throw[s] spoiled rutabaga in the garbage” and Ryan has used produce for “snowman faces!” Willy Street Co-op clearly is stocked with many inventors and artists as well. Korey has made a “celery stem rose stamp” while Luke Davis has apparently created “the lettuce launcher 2000 system”. One anonymous responder took “romanesco broccoli, broken into little christmas trees, stuck [it] vertically in a veggie dip for a holiday party.” Erika Jarden “made a sculpture/picture of flowers with veggie slices and herbs, in 3-D.”
Behind the scenes
There are often certain mysteries involved in the inner workings of a grocery store. To that end, shoppers were asked, what’s behind the milk in the cooler? Besides a few standard guesses, like “more milk” or “chilly workers wearing gloves,” there were a couple folks who seemed to get a little closer to the truth. Kerri Mack observed “there’s a lot of black metal back there” and an anonymous responder thinks it’s home to “the thousands of dollars I’ve given to the Co-op over the years.” Annie Menzel suggested “cows and goats—right?” and Fritzie asserted, “the milk fairy, of course!” One anonymous responder offered a few options: “Number one: Narnia. Number two: penguin habitat. Number three: baseball game, 7th inning. Number four: my 8th grade crush, finally willing to go out with me. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure.” Just then, Joe Manley opened up the cooler doors and saw “a complex network of farmers, truck drivers, infrastructure, and gratuitous subsidies for the dairy industry.”
While we clearly have had some major victories as a Co-op (hello Hone Bee bars), it seems important to consider the everyday successes. To that end, folks were asked, what has been your tiniest victory while shopping here? According to Gina Stuessy, “remembering coupons” is one, and for Laura McNeill, “finding the sale and seconds areas” is another. For Cindy Prentice, “finding chocolate on sale” is a small win, while simply discovering an item or section is a tiny joy. (For Nagee Reed, that would be “the candy” and for Annabel Lee it’s “seaweed salad.”) When Cori Mattli finds “reduced price bananas at the perfect ripeness,” a small victory has just occurred. For Sue Rogan, “not having to wait in line” is a pleasant win, and for Annie Menzel, well, “it had to do with a single amaranth seed...” When “an older fella just complimented my sideburns,” Joe Manley also had one such tiny victory. According to Luke Davis, one of his wins involved “noticing that when taking corners around aisles, if you ‘do the crossover step’ (kinda like in rollerskating) when entering a different aisle, your overall shopping efficiency stands to increase by at least 2-3%”...and now we can all be more efficient and victorious.
This is a runner-up (in importance) to the dating service question: Which single song or music genre best describes your shopping experience? Erika Jarden would select “new age bluegrass” while Cori Mattli chooses “riot grrl music.” For song choices, we have “Staying Alive” (Sue Rogan), “Born to Run” (Mike Crichton), “This Magic Moment” (Annabel Lee), “Afternoon Delight” (Jordan Elletsen), and “Bills Bills Bills” by Destiny’s Child (anonymous responder). Luke Davis would choose “kind of like an ‘organic Enya’—but before people seemed to agree that it was all downhill.” Kerri Mack “just think[s] of the ‘Portlandia’ theme song.” Laura McNeill’s selection has changed over the years: “when my kids were little, probably ‘Flight of the Bumblebee.’ Now that they’re older, ‘Help’ by the Beatles would probably be more appropriate as I try to instill that ‘we’re all in this together’ work ethic.”
Finally, the long-awaited shopper recommendations.... What is your current favorite product in the store?
- Luke Davis: Whitefish spread... it’s awesome and located somewhere near the yogurt section.
- Gina Stuessy: Follow your Heart vegan cream cheese
- Korey: Green C Juice + Vitamin D tincture. Beats the winter blues.
- Sue Rogan: freshly ground peanut butter
- Mike Crichton: baguettes
- Sarah Tops: Hot toddy mix from the Juice Bar
- Bev Buhr: Teff tortillas
- Meadow: Grasshopper Brownie
- Annabel Lee: Bust magazine and the Juice Bar
- Fritzie: any of the bulk items
- Annie Menzel: Silver Needles tea
- Maggie Layden: dried mango or jalapeño mustard
- Erika Jarden: Fentiman’s sodas! They make awesome drink mixers (Rose Lemonade and Hendrick’s gin are lovely).
- Cindy Breunig: Black Earth Meats Grassfed Ground Beef. I am 27 weeks pregnant and it seems like I can’t get enough of the delicious locally grown protein and iron. Oh, that and the Reubens from the Deli! Happy baby is grateful for high quality, grassfed beef, and we have discovered that my partner Lovesta makes the best Sloppy Joes ever.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer these questions and take photos! What kinds of (silly or serious) questions would you ask other Owners? Do you have any questions you’d like to ask staff members? Send them all to me at