After three long years, the Westside Supermarket reopened its doors last Friday. When it closed in 2004, disgruntled shoppers covered the store closing sign with graffiti that related stories of loves lost and found in the market’s produce aisles and threats to move away from the neighborhood as a result of being left without a “decent” supermarket. Having arrived in Morningside Heights too late for firsthand experience of the original Westside Market, foodie Elizabeth Grefrath made her inaugural trek to the legendary store this Monday.

iiiThe delightful aroma of nearly ripe produce greets the customer steps before entering the new Westside Market, tempering the sweaty stink that overtakes New York in the summer. The sight of fresh fruits and veggies is almost as refreshing—and at the Westside, unlike you can buy your roughage without breaking the bank.

Towers of tinned tuna! Exotic foreign juices! Nutella for $1.99/13 oz! You’ll never do to Fairway again–a trip down the aisles reveals that Westside prices on cereal, rice, soup, pasta as good or better than the mother of all grocery stores on 76th and 125th.

The cheese area, not an aisle but an island of fromage surrounded by outlying sample stations, quickly becomes my favorite part of the store. The astonishing array features everything from delicate and tender mozzarella di bufala to designer hard cheeses, such as the exquisite Emmanthal, and some melting-out-of-its-rind brie. After aiding a vertically challenged customer in reaching for water crackers located about the cheese, I heard a child mope that “this place probably doesn’t have lemon ice pops.” The mother answered, “oh no, I’m sure they do.”

gdfThey did, in fact, have them, in several varieties. Actually, Westside had everything that I look for in a good grocery, including Eight O’Clock Coffee, Iranian pistachios, Barilla pasta, fresh figs and herbs, yellow turnips, aged balsamic vineger from Modena, and imported canned plum tomatoes from San Marzano, Italy. If you can’t find something you need, a little box at the entrance encourages you to “tell us. We’ll order it.” When I started to write down that the Market needed to invest in Hecker’s Flour and Lio Olive Oil, a store manager approached me and apologized for not having what I needed.

What I needed, versus what I wanted. Westside Supermarket realizes the difference, and strives to supply both. At Westside, in contrast to every supermarket I’ve shopped in, the people at the meat, deli, cheese and salad (all toppings, $6.99/pound!) ask what they can do for me. In line to pay for the groceries, a bagger asked me how he could help me get my purchases to my home. Free coffee, in four blends, and with four types of milk. Splenda flowing freely and unmonitored, a touch of true class. Perhaps this is just a result
jhof Re-Opening Day adrenaline, doomed to fade when people re-learn the Westside habit. I’m going to buck my cynical Columbian instincts and hope that it is not. As I walked home from the Westside, two evenly balanced grocery bags on my arms and cup of free coffee in hand, and I believed for a short while in the goodness of mankind.

 – Photos by Armin Rosen