Now I know why they call it Whole Wallet

When I had the pleasure of moving down to Long Island City, last November, I was excited by a bunch of things.   A great new apartment.  An amazing view.   The chance to live with my girlfriend.   The chance to leave Staten Island for good.   The great commute to a new job.   It was a winter of new beginnings.  *pause for contented sigh*.   But, life in Hunter’s Point was quiet.  Too quiet.  The only grocery option within walking distance was the Korean Deli on Vernon Boulevard.   Lucky as we were, we had a car, and we could scurry off to the Super Stop and Shop about 10 minutes drive away (a few weeks after we moved in, a lucky trip to the closest Best Buy revealed it across the street).

But we wanted a walking city.  The early buzz included a  “gourmet supermarket”.  The “pharmacy”.  The “gourmet coffee” shop.   Opening soon.  February.  Definitely.

So, we fought through a cold winter (the drawback of the waterside view is the fact that the winter winds slice you like a Ginsu knife), and waited.   The supermarket vendor was announced – it would be an Amish Market.   Great.  I was in favor of paying a little more for the convenience, and for well-made quality food.   This would bridge the gap between making sandwiches, and $40 Thai delivery.  February came.  And went.  May, we were told.  Definitely May.

Meanwhile, the year before, the “gourmet coffee” shop was rumored to be, no surprise, a Starbucks.   March came, and the plans for the Starbucks were axed.  Soon enough, it was more than just that Starbucks that were axed.  The local coffee vendor, the Brasil Coffee House, would fight to live on another day.

Fast forward to March.  Some movement proffered hope. The restaurant space on the first floor – revealed as an unfortunately titled Asian Fusion restaurant.

And then, all of a sudden, it was happening.  Signs adorned the windows now-dubbed “Market at Long Island City”.  Not an Amish Market brand, mind you, but still by the same company.  The huge concrete floor was slowly filled up. Next door, the “pharmacy” was revealed as a Duane Reade.   We were cooking now.

So, imagine my utter excitement when it was finally announced that August 13th would be the day.  The supermarket, was to be called foodcellar&co. Oh happy day!

So, sure enough, morning of August 13th, just before work, I popped in. Beautiful. Huge. Stupendous. Wonderful. It was like food Disneyland. That first morning, I got some bananas and a Mount Fuji Apple Fizzy Lizzy. No time to really look around, but I’d be back later.

So when my girlfriend and I returned later that night to score dinner, we hit up the fresh made Brick Oven Pizza bar, and enjoyed amazing pizza. About $10 each. Not too bad, mind you, considering an inferior pie from Domino’s would have fit the bill. This was leisure shopping at it’s finest, and we ended up getting a bunch of other stuff. Then the total came to $90, and we started to wonder a little bit. What the hell did we buy for $70? And then we started to figure out the average price of our organic, all natural, preservative free items was somewhere around $4 each. And when you get 10-15 things that average $4 each… you hit that $60 total really quickly. But that was ok. In the heat of the moment, and the urge to support this new supermarket, I was willing to eat the price (and for the record, all of the rest of the products we had were delicious, and well-made). I looked past the eye-dropping $8.39 for a half-gallon of organic orange juice and picked up good old Tropicana for $4.59 (For the record, in any other supermarket, I’d never paid more than $3.99 for this, and often it was $3 or less. But that’s the volume game I suppose).

Fast forward two days. And we had to do some dinner shopping for my parents who were coming by the next morning. We challenged ourselves to make a great meal. So, we picked up some organic free-range chicken. Got some pasta and such, salad and dressing (this place’s produce will not be beat – it’s really top shelf), and some other odds and ends, and the total… $102. $102?.

So, what happened? The combination of the lower-volume organic products, combined with the dearth of national brands (the only one I could find was Domino sugar), make the prices really high, and the selection really different for someone not used to this. Years of regular supermarket shopping had not prepared me for this sort of thing. New brands. 3x the price. But it was all “good for you”, right? I understand an adjustment period for this new style of store, but I was hoping somewhat closer to Trader Joe’s in terms of prices. But, man, for wanting to really make this place a staple of my life, but, I simply can’t afford to do it. I’m not alone. This place just totally screwed with my “value per dollar barometer”.

The Duane Reade is about ready to open. The Asian Fusion restaurant is already taking take out orders. But, why oh why am I so sad by how my beloved supermarket came out. I’m going to give it a shot, sure and it’s only been 5 days. Is this what Whole Foods is like? Do I need to pay more money for better food? Why is this stuff all priced so high? How come good food can’t be cheaper?


  1. We are going through the same thing! I remember hitting Whole Foods in Manhattan several times a week for lunch items but it was all prepared foods so I never though much about the price. We moved to Orlando which is a wasteland in the food department and then we finally got a Whole Foods. It opened a month ago, it’s a 20 minute drive for us (with no traffic) and we went in there and easily dropped $90 the kicker was we still had to hit the grocery store for other items! I feel your pain.

  2. this new market is turning out to be very disappointing.. my wife and i have been using a combo of ctown and fresh direct w/ the occasional trip to the deli to get by. needless to say we were just as excited as you to have a new grocery store in the hood…. that was until we spent $90 on a bag of groceries this weekend.! on top of that, they didn’t even have a simple stuff like sliced bread, seltzer or a box a cheerios. whatever.. unfortunately it’s par for the course in LIC these days:(

  3. Sadly, the cost of quality food is astronomical. This is what leads so many people to buy cheaper fast food.
    Additionally, the costs have increased this summer due to the weather conditions (e.g. the tomato has seen better seasons). This also doesn’t include the cost to transport everything, so many places have increased prices due to the rise in fuel prices. I’m sure there could be a better solution for this, but until then, the prices will keep going up…

  4. Sounds like a total bummer, Matt. I love gourmet grocery stores, but not for lack of other options. Make it your special place where you can indulge yourself, but stick to the Stop n Shop for everyday purchases. At ten minute drive is nothing, especially to a gal from Texas. We used to drive half an hour to get to the nearest grocery store. 😉

  5. I’m with you on the price. What really burns me, though, is the market itself. I feel overwhelmed whenever I walk through the doors, as though I’ve entered the Worldwide Shrine of Food. I leave there as exhausted as I do broke.

    We have a smaller co-op in Seattle called PCC that’s less overwhelming, but just as expensive. Isn’t it great getting financially punished for trying to do the right thing? :-/

  6. Most of the world pays a higher % of income for food than we in the US do

    “Organic farming” means “the old way that had most people starving” Organic means more work (money) for less food

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