gbq&a: what is a shopping experience worth?

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New Seasons is a natural foods market along the lines of Whole Foods, but home grown. Way back when we lived in Sellwood (a SE Portland neighborhood) one of our neighbors started a little hippie grocery. He grew a lot of the produce on a vacant lot across the street and was in the vanguard when it came to displaying veggies as if they were the crown jewels.


Over the years, the concept grew and that little corner store morphed into a chain of well designed, high-concept markets. The latest installment recently opened in Slabtown in NW Portland.

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Outdoor amenities include living walls, plantings of trees and grasses and built-in benches for sipping your latté or nibbling your organic salad in the sunshine.


A nicely curated selection of plants is displayed at the main entrance.


Walk through those doors and you are greeted by a well-stocked flower shop with cut flowers and some potted succulents, herbs and orchids.


We checked it out on opening day. It was doing a brisk business, to say the least.


Carrot sculptures seem to be a theme, as is the color scheme, which remains consistent with each new store. So here is my question for your consideration. Are you willing to pay a premium for a pleasant shopping experience where you can be pretty sure of top quality, many locally produced goods and environmental sensitivity? I used to be able to add local ownership to the list of assets, but with success comes the lure of cashing in by selling out. While most of these stores are scattered around the Portland area, they are now owned by a corporation. I’d like to hear where you come down on this before going into my own thoughts about it. Won’t you leave a comment? All opinions (including rants if you’re so inclined) are welcome and I’ll come back next week to add my two cents.

To participate beyond simply commenting, write a post posing a question, linking to and from this post. I have every intention of doing this thing on the first Friday of every month if the interest is there…seems like there should be plenty of curiosity to go around and I know many of you have answers to spare.

21 thoughts on “gbq&a: what is a shopping experience worth?

  1. I am willing to pay a premium for this kind of grocery shopping experience, but driving a long way to it is not something I’m willing to do. The nearest Whole Foods to me is an hour away, and the closest thing to this shopping experience other than that is in Tacoma, at least half an hour away. So it doesn’t have to be locally owned, for me it just has to be local.

    • Good point, Alison: since we moved to the country, most shopping happens at the local one-stop and our exercise gurus are all on DVDs. Trips into town might include Food Front or New Seasons if there is time after stops at Xera, PDX Nursery and/or Garden Fever. Gotta keep my priorities straight.

  2. I shop at Whole Foods almost exclusively-they are my weekly store and Trader Joes is my every 3 weeks store. I am no longer shopping for a family so the atmosphere at WF is something I’m willing to pay a little more for. They play better music too ! If you shop carefully there there are many things that are no more expensive than they would be in a ‘regular’ grocery store. Their meat dept is wonderful but pricey-however I eat very little meat and thus can afford to buy the good stuff when I do. I guess I’m a bit of an ambiance princess-I never step foot into a WalMart and avoid the mainstream chain grocery stores like Safeway, Lucky, Albertsons etc.I loathe malls. Of course I can shop at nurserys all day long.

  3. When the attractive venue is backed by high quality produce and nutritious products not available elsewhere, I’ll shop the premium stores, like Whole Foods and Bristol Farms here. My husband has dietary restrictions that are difficult to satisfy in conventional markets and I appreciate that WF carries products we can’t find elsewhere; however, I don’t try to do all my grocery shopping there. Whole Foods has damaged its image here with some questionable pricing practices too so it needs to earn back consumer trust.

  4. I am blessed in that I have a New Seasons just 5 blocks away, yet I drive past that store, and a second (newer) New Seasons enroute to Fred Meyer, where I do the bulk of our shopping. It’s a price thing, as well as a selection thing. I can get the light bulbs, batteries, shower curtain and socks for Andrew all in one stop, what’s not to love about that? (notice I didn’t mention stoping in the nursery, which is certainly a draw) However not a week goes by that were not also in New Seasons, picking up something we can’t get at Fred Meyer, or a quick meal or addition.

  5. I am willing to pay more for good quality and selection. I’m glad to see you have an alternative to Whole Foods. I would also prefer to shop where the employees are decently compensated, however that is hard to find. We split our shopping between Whole Foods and mid-range supermarkets (Jewel or Mariano’s). I don’t like shopping at Whole Foods because the owner is such a turd.

  6. We’re a “mixed shopping” family, as well. We annually purchase a CSA produce share–which supplies us with locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables from May through early November. Unfortunately, Wisconsin winters are severe, so we must move beyond our borders for fresh produce nearly half of the year. We shop mostly at local, private grocery stores because Whole Foods is not convenient to us. But we occasionally pick up a few items at the larger chains. Good discussion!

  7. I do a lot of my own cooking and use New Seasons for the bulk section. Spices are way cheaper in bulk than buying those teeny glass jars at Safeway. And if you are wondering about the taste of an apple, they will cut one up so you can taste. Cannot even find an employee in the local Albertsons, which is 2 blocks from my house, all automated self checkout. When I do find someone at checkout, they won’t even look you in the eye, and barely speak.

  8. I’m lucky in that we are able to grow almost all the vegetables, salads and herbs that we eat; I use a small local fruit and vegetable shop where the quality is high and almost everything is locally produced, if you pass the shop early in the morning 6 ish, you see lots of small vans delivering whatever that farmer has produced. The shop is consistently cheaper than any of the supermarkets and its quality much superior except on ‘specials’ which are often not actually worth buying because the cases of peaches or apples or whatever are so under-ripe they rot before getting ripe! For other comestibles etc. I do use a supermarket. Mostly I think you get what you pay for, and Italians are prepared to spend a higher proportion of their income on quality foods than some other European countries but that is changing with the economic downturn Italy is experiencing. It is sad that you guy sold out, I doubt his ethos will continue in the long term, it will just be the name and the higher prices (cynical? me?

  9. Like Danger, I do a lot of my shopping at Fred Meyer because of the prices/one stop shopping. However, we have a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods nearby and enjoy going there for things I can’t find elsewhere. Metropolitan Market is about 10 minutes away and is a fabulous store, great ambiance, gorgeous produce, deli, olive bar, bakery, sushi bar, cool florist section, etc. which we seldom visit (I often feel under dressed.) Our walk-to, on the way home from work, neighborhood, locally-owned store is Stadium Thriftway which we frequently visit for a few things. So, I’m willing to pay a higher price for convenience of location/experience but I do like to economize on groceries to spend more on plants. It’s important to have priorities, right?

  10. Insert rant. Fred Meyer is a rip off. I go once a week if there’s something in the add worth the trip, but my regular grocery shopping is done at Winco. With five mouths to feed, on a single (husband) income, it’s the only way we can afford to eat real food. I meal plan and cook, on average, seven nights a week. I can’t fathom why/how people shop on a regular basis at these specialty stores. I love Trader Joe’s as much as the next guy, and actually have a handful of items I’ll only buy there, but for stocking a pantry, or filling a fridge, pretty just doesn’t cut it in the real world. I feel like these stores are for single people, or anyone who doesn’t know what it means to budget. I LOVE food, and get excited in a beautiful produce display, but I can crank out a “fancy” meal from the ghetto grocery store for a quarter of the price. End rant.

    • I was hoping for a good rant. A good cook can work magic on humble ingredients. I keep hearing about Winco but have never been. The closest one is about 14 miles from here, so FM it is.

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