Suggestion Book

Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

Greetings and thanks for writing. As usual, suggestions and responses may have been edited for brevity, clarity and/or comedy. In addition, no idea, concept, issue, remark, phrase, description of event, word or word string should be taken seriously. This also applies to the previous sentence.

Our Ambler expansion appears to be proceeding nicely, with the scrolls providing valuable insight into the inner workings of the building. We’re looking forward to our own occupy movement — the occupation of a building originally built with the intent of profiting from selling what was mostly questionably healthful, factory-farmed food at low cost to people who either couldn’t afford better and/or weren’t educated and/or motivated to make healthier choices. 

It’s interesting how this has played out. I think we looked at four buildings in Ambler over the last couple years. One was a school building, one was the old borough hall, which included a police station (complete with a few jail cells in the basement), one was a nice old brick building with great windows and large basement, which, for a while, was my favorite. It was so our cup of tea — old, multiple floors, limited parking, limited access for trucks, not really big enough — similar to the limitations we have in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. Our comfort zone. 

We were all in for a while. We hired a project manager and an architect and had contractors walk through to get renovation and fit-out costs. Store planners started drawing possible layouts. Then the Bottom Dollar building, owned by Aldi, went from being unavailable to possibly available — a building built to be a grocery store with parking, a loading dock, a one-level flat floor, utilities and systems installed to suit a grocery store, and 17,000 square feet to play with. (Our Chestnut Hill store is about 6,000.) 

We had to look. Initially I was horrified and wanted it to just disappear so we could concentrate on the nice brick building. The Bottom Dollar building has no character or charm of its own, and nothing of architectural interest. To me, it’s a monument to a toxic food system to which we’re trying to be an alternative. Painted on the walls were slogans like “Shop like there’s low tomorrow” and “Food prices that kick bottom.” Yuck. However, it’s a grocery store building just sitting there, vacant, contributing to blight on one of Ambler’s main streets. It has 83 parking spaces. Lots of room. Loading dock. Affordable rent. Then there was the concern that if we took the nice brick building, a competitor would go into the Bottom Dollar building. 

We looked. We calculated. We contemplated. We listened to Ambler folks who were happy when Bottom Dollar opened on what was a vacant lot, finally giving them a place to buy food again other than the CVS. We analyzed pages of complex sublease documents (in which I was first hoping to find a deal-breaker). Crazy as it sounded, this was starting to look doable, and when we added in the fact that we’d have room for a cafe, a commissary kitchen to serve all three stores, a parking lot we could make appealing with sustainable landscaping that could host events, it started to become more desirable. Finally it dawned on me. Who better to take a toxic food system building and turn it around into a community asset providing healthy food for the surrounding area than us? 

I sold myself on the place and now we’re all in on 217 E. Butler Ave., figuring out the best design and moving forward with what will likely be Weavers Way’s third store, our first in a “normal” grocery store building.

Speaking of factory-farmed food sold at the likes of Bottom Dollar, in recent food news, poultry giant Tyson Foods acquired 5 percent of a vegan “meat analogue” startup company called Beyond Meat. “It meets our desire to offer consumers choices and to consider how we can serve an ever-growing and diverse global population, while remaining focused on our core prepared foods and animal protein businesses,” said a Tyson spokesperson. Beyond Meat states: “Our mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare.” 

A few things come to mind here. One is the Beyond Meat view that the way to improve human health involves “mass-market solutions.” I see this a lot. Many large food companies, including our main natural foods supplier, UNFI, talk about being sustainable. They install solar panels on their warehouses, fund and promote organic food production, green their buildings, recycle and compost waste, work to make their vehicle fleets efficient and then tout their activities. I question this concept of sustainability. I wonder if any company serving the “mass market” can be sustainable. UNFI, operates a thousand trucks delivering 2 million cases a day from 33 distribution centers stocked with 40,000 items made of ingredients from all over the world. Their business model is so grossly out of scale from a community-based, democratically run food system I don’t see how it could be made sustainable. It’s a “more is better, bigger is better” model. Grow grow grow, until you either topple or are too big to fail. What a great system.

suggestions and responses:

s: “What has happened to the Italian table cheese that we always used to have? It may have another name, but I don’t see anything like it. Please let me know. P.S. Also what about that soft orange cheese with chives in it?”

r: (Shawn MA) We have both cheeses. Fontinella is the Italian table cheese. If you don’t see it on the shelf, ask someone at the deli if we have it ready to cut. Cotswold, the one with the chives, is almost always out on the shelves.

s: “1) Can we get back Amy’s Vegetable Pot Pies (not the vegan kind)? 2) Can we get back Green & Black Espresso bars?”

r: (Nell MA) Sorry, we stopped selling Amy’s Veggie pot pies. Unfortunately, they just weren’t selling very well and with such limited space here, we had to let them go so we could make room for new items that are in greater demand. Remember we’re always happy to pre-order you a case of anything you like, and you’ll receive the 10 percent case discount if you do. The pot pies come in a case of 12 and with the discount you would pay $40.93. Just let us know. Regarding the Green and Black Espresso bar, our vendor has stopped carrying it so we have no way of bringing it in. We’re pretty bummed about it too!

s: “Please bring back the Smoked Almond Nut Thin crackers. They are way better than other flavors. Also, shirataki-bean noodles (not soy). CH has the soy shirataki-just bean, please.”

r: (Nell MA) We’re sorry we don’t carry the smoked almond thin crackers anymore. Unfortunately, they just weren’t selling very well. We can pre-order you a case, and you'll get the 10 percent case discount. Thanks for the shirataki bean noodle suggestion, we’ll look into it and see if we can bring it in.

s: “Hi, I noticed you switched to Field Day refried beans. While it doesn’t say it anywhere on the label, unless you read the ingredients, these contain jalapeno. This sort of makes them spicy. Actually, quite spicy. Which is fine with me, but a terrific surprise and shock to the rest of my family. You still carry Amy’s, but only their refried beans with peppers (which is basically the same as Field Day except Amy’s explicitly declares Whoa Ho Spicy Beans Inside). Would it be possible to carry at least one can of plain, straight refried beans again instead of three varieties also containing jalapenos? Thanks.

r: (Kathryn MA) The one completely plain flavor stopped selling once we brought in Field Day. But you are right, there should be a non-spicy option. I’ll find one and bring it in soon. Thanks.

s: “Please look into carrying So Delicious non-dairy, non-soy ice cream pints — especially mint chip, vanilla & chocolate. One gram of sugar makes it much healthier than all the other ice cream around.”

r: (Kathryn MA) We have vanilla So Delicious in pints now, and I’ll add these other flavors to our wish list. We have such limited freezer space, and so many requests for new frozen items, that it’s unlikely we’ll bring these in anytime soon. Sorry to disappoint!

s: “Product suggestions: 1) Three Baker’s gluten free bread (best-tasting out there). 2) Any vegan and gluten-free mac-n-cheese. 3) Organic, low-sodium vegetable broth. Thanks.”

r: (Kathryn MA) Thanks for suggestions! I brought in Pacific Low Sodium Vegetable Broth this month. The other two I will add to our wish list, but it’s unlikely I’ll bring them in soon due to limited space.

s: “More options for dairy lovers who are lactose intolerant. This is a new issue for me and the only lactose-free dairy product here, and in most grocery stores, is low-fat milk. I’ve found a whole line of lactose free organic whole-milk products (Green Valley) only at Whole Foods — a long drive, but I make every few weeks to stock up on their kefir. They also have yogurt and sour cream.”

r: (Kathryn MA) We carried the Green Valley line for about six months, but it sold very slowly. We ended up throwing away a bunch. There’s just not enough of a market for them in Mt. Airy. We do have other non-dairy yogurts — So Delicious and Silk. Lactose-free kefir is an interesting thought. I’ll look out for non-dairy kefir to appeal to vegans and lactose-free folks.

s: “I attended the Harvest on Henry festival and it was good time. I got to wondering where the name “Henry” in Henry Avenue came from, any idea?”

r: (Norman) It’s named after Alexander Henry, mayor of Philadelphia from 1858 to 1865. Interestingly, he was a champion of the small farmer and public transportation. He was part of the People’s Party, which was a party of small farmers formed as a reaction to people thinking the Democrats and Republicans were dominated by bankers, landowners and elites. The platform included proposals like abolishing national banks, a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, civil-service reform, an eight-hour working day and government control of all railroads, telegraphs and telephones. Coincidentally, in 1892 they ran a presidential candidate that won four states. The name of that candidate was James B. Weaver.

s: “With all this talk of home delivery services like Amazon Fresh and Instacart, I find I only need home delivery when it’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep so am watching documentaries and would like someone to bring me ice cream in bed. Can this be incorporated into our home-delivery service?”

r: (Norman) Yes, once our service is up and running, just check the box for “in-bed delivery” and email us a photo of your house key. Our driver will print a key on our 3-D printer and use an infrared targeting system to find you in your bed. We just out-Amazoned Amazon. Go Co-op!