Photograph by Angie Smith
We were once a country of neighborhood grocers—places where Sam or Louie knew your name, that you bought 2 percent, and that your toddler liked to gnaw on a banana while you shopped. Somewhere along the way we sacrificed these small conveniences for one big one: the supermarket. But a number of new independent grocers concentrated in Northeast L.A. have chosen to downsize for the sake of an ideal. To some that means changing farming practices; to others it means tapping into the unique cravings of a neighborhood.
“The grocery industry is a volume business,” says Marta Teegen of Echo Park’s tiny foodstuffs store, CookBook (1549 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park). “We can never compete with that.” CookBook sells only responsibly sourced foods such as Marin Farms pasture-raised meats and free-range eggs from an L.A. farmer. “We don’t consider ourselves a gourmet market,” says Teegen. “We offer basics—cheese, milk, butter, and eggs. But we like to think we offer the best.” With specialized product can come higher prices. “Our broccoli costs $3.25 a pound, and people scoff,” says Teegen. “Good, responsible food costs money. It’s an education process.”
Piper Goldstein’s store, Atwater Village Farm (3224 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village), almost didn’t open owing to financial difficulties, but the locals rallied around Goldstein, donating money through the fund-raising Web site Kickstarter. “I’m here because the neighborhood wanted me to be,” Goldstein says. Today she’s paying it back by selling everything from Village Bakery baguettes to Bikram-approved water to Weetabix, a British expat favorite, because her customers requested them.
“Wholesome food should be a right,” says Ruben Perez, a Highland Park native and co-owner of Figueroa Produce (6312 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park). “Many of the people in this area are blue collar—they aren’t going to stop into a Whole Foods.” His market stocks seasonal produce as well as organic cereals and grass-fed beef at prices that make it a healthful—and practical—alternative. “You won’t find Coca-Cola here. If it’s winter, there won’t be nectarines,” he says. “But I will remember your kids’ names.”