In Our Backyard - October, 2012

Michael Phelps, Misty May-Treanor, Serena Williams – move over. There was one Olympic sport left out of the London festivities this summer that makes these kids look like slackers…ok, slackers with really toned abs. What sport am I referring to? Grocery shopping in Rockland. That’s right, I hereby propose that the two hour suburban steeplechase required to pull together a few bags of moderate to high-end groceries is the local challenge of champions.

Synchronized diving, psshaw. Pole-vaulting? Please. How about 45 minutes max to get to ONE store and shop for say, a piece of fresh fish, a bottle of capers, a loaf of bread made within the last 48 hours, a tomato with taste and fruit that’s actually ripe. Usain Bolt couldn’t make it happen on an average day in our neighborhood.

However, thirty years of trying have taught me a few things. Here are my observations at Shoprite, Woo-Ri Mart, Organica, and the Old World Food Market (the last is the only store technically in Rockland, but in my book they all qualify as being in our backyard.)

Let’s start with the store that one Palisades resident said reduced her to tears the first time she went. You guessed it, Shoprite, 246 Livingstone Avenue in Northvale.

Shoprite gets no respect, but it’s close and consistently best on price. If you can ignore the surgical theater lighting, the chronically depressed cashiers and the small children freaking out in front of the ice cream case because mom said no, then bargains can be had. For example, at $3.29 for a 14 oz. box of Kashi Go Lean Crunch, Shoprite’s price is $1.70 less than Woo-Ri and Old World, and $3.00 less than Organica. One pound of DeCecco spaghetti on sale at Shoprite is $1.99 (Old World $2.69, Woo- Ri $2.99, and Organica $3.29), but grab some Advil while you’re there - better yet, a bottle of wine - because this sprint requires a marathoner’s mental fortitude.

Woo-Ri Mart, a Korean specialty store tucked into the corner of the Northvale Square shopping center, is the exotic in the bunch – kind of like fencing. Does anyone really get what’s going on in fencing? And what’s with the red and green lights? Anyway, Woo-Ri is loaded with pickled and dried things that I don’t know what to do with, but the fish and seafood selection is fresh and reliable. The produce often looks better than it tastes, but there’s fresh tofu from New Jersey, and hot pink Korean rubber gloves that can handle any nasty cleaning job you’ve got. The experience? Let’s just say there’s no reason to linger other than to ogle unfamiliar cuts of beef and ponder what white bean paste starch is used for.

And then there’s Organica. This family-owned, organic health food store has steadily improved since opening in 1978. Because the store is small, selection is limited and seasonal produce comes from everywhere except locally which, for a health food store, seems strange. Also, pricing on nonproduce is idiosyncratic at best and almost always higher than other stores. Nonetheless, some of the prepared food is very good; juices, coffee and baked goods are excellent, there are Eberle chickens, grass fed ground beef, and a tiny, but satisfying cheese case. Best of all, the owners are friendly and the place has an appealing vibe that makes frequent trips as benign as an easy jog around the track. It is not, however, the decathlon one stop shopping experience we 10964 folks are pining for.

Some thought the Bela Karolyi bump for Rockland food shopping would be the 2009 opening of the Old World Food Market, 40 Route 59 in Nyack. Maybe… but pull on the sneakers and spandex because somehow the twenty-minute schlepp north of Nyack feels a lot longer. The good news is that once you’ve adjusted to the Eastern Europe-meets-Frontierland décor, you can find just about everything necessary - unless, of course, you’re a world-class couch potato. Armchair athletes be warned, there are no six-cart wide aisles of soda, chips, candy or frozen pizza at Old World. There is, however, a sophisticated cheese selection, a moderate but goodlooking array of organic and non-organic produce, Bell & Evans chicken breasts and lux items such as jarred tuna fillets, salted Macona almonds from Spain, a wide variety of olive oils from everywhere and condiments and preserves from Maine’s lauded Stonewall Kitchen. Things looked a little tired in the meat case, and although the fish seemed fresh, the selection is meager and favors commonly found filets over whole fish and shellfish. There are Meyers cleaning products and Seventh Generation paper goods stacked next to Tide and Brillo pads. And if you’re looking to avoid cooking, there’s an impressive spread of prepared foods for take-out and catering. Wait a minute – let me take a swig of my energy drink - are we in Rockland?

I ask about store hours and the cashier isn’t sure. I observe a woman getting annoyed because her fish has been cut wrong. I see cheese samples set out without a container for used toothpicks. I notice some overripe cheeses and spots of mold on a giant wheel of Parmesan. Details, yes, but world records can hang on one one-hundredth of a second, am I right? The employees seem vague about how shopping at Old World should differ from, say, shopping at the Stop & Shop down the road. And it’s probable the store doesn’t get enough business to keep turnover as high as it should be.

Ah yes, we’re in Rockland after all - seems the effort to look upscale at Old World hasn’t translated into being upscale. But for now my fellow triathlon food shoppers, until the flame is lit in Nanuet with the promised opening of Fairway in Fall 2013, Old World is as close as Rockland gets to the All-Around in onestop shopping.