By Jane Heil Usyk
You can hardly imagine a happier person these days than my husband, surrounded as he is by a variety of food stores. He is beside himself with joy about the opening of Trader Joe’s in SoHo, which has lovely, fresh food and very low prices and has, in his words, “liberated me from the tyranny of Morton-Williams,” which has high prices and not-great food (except for meat and sushi), but proximity to us. You could almost fall out of our window and be there in a minute. It is, he says, like a bad bodega, with very high prices, very little choice, and old food.
Knowing the price and value of every item in a grocery store is how he stays in touch with his mother (who died 21 years ago); she was a cashier in a Daitch/Food Emporium in the Bronx before the days of computers, and she knew the price of every item in the store. So when Michael remembers the price of, for example, a loaf of bread, and knows you can get a bigger loaf for less at Trader Joe’s, or a pound of cherries in Chinatown, he hears his mother praising him. She comes down from her star in the Warsaw section of Heaven, and they visit for a little while.
Today, for example, he heads up to Western Beef, where bacon is often on sale, and corn muffin mix costs half what it does in Morton-Williams. And let’s look at corn, which is so heavenly right now. Corn is just 29 cents an ear in Trader Joe’s (ear; how odd: an ear of corn. Who was the bright light who first decided a corn cob, with the grain in, ought to be called “an ear”?). In Morton-Williams it’s a dollar an ear. And it is SOOOO good; I said we ought to have corn at every meal.
The salad greens are fresher. He was all excited about Whole Foods’ salad greens for a while. Then he discovered Trader Joe’s, which are fresher and cheaper, and it’s closer. A bag of Brussels sprouts is $2.69 in Morton-Williams, and 99 cents in Trader Joe’s. Eggs are $1.29 for a half-dozen in Morton-Williams, and $1.29 for a dozen in Trader Joe’s. Bread crumbs are $3.00 for a box in Morton-Williams, and $1.29 in Trader Joe’s. Tacos are $2.99 in Morton-Williams, $1.29 in Trader Joe’s. So each time he goes, he saves thirty or forty percent compared to what he would have spent in Morton-Williams! “I’m such a shill for Trader Joe’s,” he says.
In all fairness, though, Trader Joe’s is not perfect. They do not carry lamb chops, which I must have for my well-being. Nor do they carry Bazzini Pumpkin Seeds, which I also must have. Morton-Williams has pie shells; Trader Joe’s does not. Morton-Williams’ dish cleaner is a lot cheaper than Trader Joe’s. Also, unlike Morton-Williams, Trader Joe’s does not have any place to sit down—which is probably on purpose, as who wants every slacker in the neighborhood spending half the day there? We know them all: Mayonnaise Man, Cross Man, Shorts Guy. In the middle of winter, he wears cotton shorts.
Michael is not as bad as his father in retirement; his father used to spend hours reading the backs of cereal boxes and the contents of jars. That was his plan for retirement; that, and going to the emergency room on every holiday. Michael spent every New Year’s Eve in the emergency room of Montefiore Hospital. He was there the New Year’s when a man strode in with a knife sticking out of his chest, laughing about it!
How did I get so far from my topic? Back to food stores in Greenwich Village and its surroundings, and in particular, the new Trader Joe’s. Did you ever see such aisles? Wide aisles like in Connecticut. Very pleasant cashiers. It seems to me we are, in this neighborhood, enjoying a renaissance of sorts, like the very olden days of Bleecker Street with its carts of vegetables (I remember them, though you may not). That is something to be very happy about.
Jane Heil Usyk has written over a hundred magazine articles in magazines such as Vogue, Cosmo, Glamour, Family Circle, Playgirl and Fitness. She also wrote a book, “Silence, Storytelling, and Madness: Strategies of Resistance in Nuyorican and Other Latina Women’s Coming-of-Age Stories,” which was published in 2013. She was an editor of Fitness Magazine and an editorial assistant at Vogue.