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Urban Greengrocers Are Back, To Serve Big-Spending Locavores

Each Peach Market in Washington, D.C., is a far cry from the Trader Joe's where I usually shop. For one thing, it's tiny — smaller than the apartment I share with two others. And there are no lines snaking through aisles and aisles of tempting goods.

You'll find the usual staples here, and also artisanal pickles, locally grown and cured charcuterie, and yogurt from Pennsylvania's Amish country. But don't expect much selection — there are just two brands of olive oil, rather than the several shelves to choose from at Harris Teeter.

If a regular comes in with a hankering for something that's not on the shelves, owners Jeanlouise Conaway and Emily Friedberg say they'll happily put in an order.

But while it offers what feels like a distinct shopping experience, Each Peach, which opened in 2013, isn't all that unique. It's a new version of the old-school neighborhood market, which is popping up in cities across the country. There's Urban Radish and Cookbook in Los Angeles, Farm to Market in Austin, and Milk and Honey Market in Philadelphia — to name just a few.

These aren't your parents' big-box grocery stores. They're closer to the places your grandparents might have shopped — but updated for the modern foodie.

"This renaissance of small markets has happened in just the past couple of years," Friedberg says. She and Conaway say they opened theirs because they sensed a growing appetite for high-quality, local foods.

But even though Each Peach carries a lot of quirky specialty goods, Friedberg says the biggest draw for most customers is the "neighborhoodiness."

"We have a lot of regular customers that we see almost every day," she says. They stop by to pick up a couple of things at a time — maybe just ingredients for dinner that night.

Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research group focused on urban development, agrees that independent shops like Each Peach are a growing trend in urban areas. "And I think it'll continue to grow," he tells The Salt.

The growing interest in eating farm-fresh, locally grown food is partially responsible for the small shop renaissance, McMahon says. As we've reported before, public markets are coming back to cities for the same reason.

"It used to be that everybody did all their shopping in one great, big grocery store," he says. People would drive over to a Safeway or a Kroger once a week, or once every 10 days, and stock up.

But for city dwellers who might not drive and who live in small apartments with limited pantry space, the walkable neighborhood grocery store is becoming more appealing.

"And these local stores, they tend to be more in touch with their consumers," McMahon says. "The closer you get to the people, the more in touch you are with their needs, wants and desires."

People also prefer the small grocery store for the same reasons they prefer the independent coffee shop over Starbucks or the local bookstore over Barnes & Noble, McMahon says. "They tend to be a great place to meet your neighbors."

Of course, these little markets are often pricier than chain stores. In some cases they're a lot more expensive. At Each Peach, Friedberg says she tried to stock affordable staples. But a bunch of asparagus there costs $6. And a bag of local, organic granola is $7.50 — that's more than twice as much as a giant box of Grape Nuts.

But while modestly priced chains like Trader Joe's are booming, there's a growing number of people who can afford — and are willing — to pay more for their food.

"If you want to spend your entire food budget on low-nutritional-value nonsense, your dollars can go a lot further at some of our competitors," says Danielle Vogel, who owns Glen's Garden Market in D.C.

Unlike Each Peach, which sources both local and imported foods, Glen's is 100 percent local. That means you'll only find produce grown in the Northeast or the Mid-Atlantic in Vogel's shop. "I will never sell bananas," she says. And if you're willing to be adventurous, she does carry local, organic and sustainable substitutes for pretty much everything you'd find at chain stores.

A lot of customers are willing to do that, it seems — Vogel says she is drawing in regulars. "We've tripled our inventory in the year that we've existed," she says.

Friedberg says she's excited to see so many stores opening around the city. "Everyone is doing something a little different," she says. "But I think there's a real hunger for local food."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


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