I live in what is arguably one of the great intellectual nerve centers of the world. The Gardner and Fine Arts Museums are a short walk away. As is the greatest single collection of hospitals and medical research in the world. My house is tucked in between Boston University on one side and Northeastern on the other. Boston College is only modestly further away, as is Harvard and MIT. My nephew stayed at our house one summer so he could go to Berklee School of Music. To do so he had to walk by the New England Conservatory.
Our little neighborhood is something of a commercial throw-back. Two Italian brothers run a hair salon down the block. There’s a old fashioned diner called the “Busy Bee” where you can get grease mainlined into your blood stream thanks to a cranky waitress who has been their since before I was born. There’s even an independent hardware store.
When we moved in a decade ago, you had to get in our car to find a grocery store. Near BU there’s a Shaw’s Super Store. And if you drive in pretty much any direction you will eventually find a Whole Foods. But if you want to walk, you were out of luck save for a couple of poorly run convenience stores.
There was a big commercial space that was a Chinese and then Italian restaurant one block away from us. We literally never a soul eat there. Finally, it turned over and became Johnny’s Foodmaster. Johnny’s is a full service grocery store with no frills. The only other one I have ever been in is located in Charlestown, not a likely site for a Whole Foods.
Don’t get me wrong, the Johnny’s is quirky. I am not about to consume their homemade deli specials. And the checkout woman has this oddly high-pitched voice and overly long straight hair that gives the faint impression of the daughter in the Munsters (though her hair is red instead of black her eyes bug out and she is cheery in a way that always makes me think she is excited about sucking my blood).
I’m the kind of dad and husband who sometimes does the shopping and shares the cooking. Having been a single dad with two little kids for six years prior to remarrying I am all about stocking the house with stuff the kids like and cooking simple meals I know they will eat. And nothing pisses me off more than paying $5 for a tiny little box of blueberries.
I have come to love my Johnny’s, even the creepy check out gal from Nightmare on Elm Street. I have added it up and the price of shopping at Johnny’s is roughly half what the same stuff would cost me at Whole Foods. I am not kidding. And the produce is just as good, at times even better. The place is a compact little footprint so I don’t get lost like I do inside the Shaw’s Mega Store. And I can walk.
I’ve spent enough time in Italy to understand the importance of buying locally produced food in season from merchants who specialize what they are good at. In my own little Brookline way, I’ve come up with a routine that works for me. A couple years ago we also got a specialty meat store that is amazing. So I buy my meat there and go to the Johnny’s. If I am desperate for some organic something I got to the Trader Joe’s (located next to the meat store in Coolidge Corner). I no longer get in the car and go to Whole Foods or Shaws. It’s a conscious decision to live a simpler, healthier life for my family and me.
Then the unthinkable happened. I was in line with a massive order at the Johnny’s yesterday when the Munster daughter started talking to herself (she also speaks to herself at a high rate of speed in a voice that makes you think she might very well have a body somewhere in a closet at home) about whether or not she would come back to work after the end of November. I broke into her self-discussion to ask why she would ever consider leaving such a plum job.
“Because Whole Foods has bought the store,” she replied with a look of horror which was matched only my own.
Soon I won’t be able to buy Oreos, regular toilet paper, and Diet Coke down the block. Instead of Eddies Reduced Fat Ice Cream (which I consume by the half gallon) I am going to have to buy some whole milk organic ice cream that costs twice as much and will not allow me to continue my delusion of ice cream being some kind of evening vitamin without calories. And I will be forced to buy $5 blueberries and little plastic cups of mixed fruit for $10. The Yogurt selection will be modestly better but that is hardly a fair trade.
“Yeah they are shutting down November 30th,” my favorite little vampire went on as if speaking to herself instead of me. “But they aren’t reopening until the fall of 2013. What do you do for a whole year with a store that’s already perfect?”