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Goodwells: Little Grocer Brings Big Organic Goodness to Midtown

In a city where inexpensive eats mostly mean fast-food chains and Coney Islands, and grocery shopping often is a choice between high prices and higher prices, Goodwells Natural Foods Market sticks out like a green thumb.

For three years now, the store, located in West Willis Village, has provided its neighborhood with organic produce and top quality vegetarian and vegan foods. It also is a favorite midtown lunch spot, with a small but tasty carry out menu.
 
James Wood, one of the store's four owners, says the store grew out of the void left by the sudden closing of the Cass Corridor Food Co-op five years ago.

Wood and the other owners were members of the co-op, which had been a fixture in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. Its absence is still palpably felt by residents. "There's always been hope it would start again," Wood says. "We still have people come and ask us where it is."

In its absence, Wood and the other owners decided to create something new, and make it accessible to all Detroiters. "Many times, places like this are only found in richer places," Wood says. "Regular old folks should have that same quality."

Small but packed

The store picks up where the co-op left off, specializing in raw produce from local growers. And they work with customers to get special requests met.

However, dealing with organic produce is more often touch and go, Wood says. "Organic [produce] is very expensive and inconsistent in quality," he says. "Sometimes, the variety isn't there, and we have to make the decision not to buy anything."

Wood says that Goodwells is a "natural fit" on its block of West Willis between Canfield and Second a block that also features organic bakers Avalon International Breads and the artistic and spiritual energy of the Spiral Collective.

Wood thinks that the block appeals to so many people because it can fulfill many of their needs. "They use the total block, and the response has been very positive," he says.

The store's size probably has something to do with it as well. Wood says people often come in and order from them, and while waiting, drift into the other shops on the block for something else. He estimates that the Co-op's capacity was probably had eight times that of Goodwells.

"You can't stand in one place too long," he says of the store.

The inside of store is tightly packed; the shelves are full, but well-organized with sorts of natural foods and products -- from healthy versions of favorite snacks and condiments to cleaning products, soaps, oils, vitamin supplements and spices. The variety is something that makes the customer more curious than claustrophobic.

While the store offers organic versions of some the usual produce found in most grocery stores, there's also a touch of the exotic with items such as fresh wheatgrass and sunflower sprouts, which are grown in the store. "We always try to find something new and introduce it," Wood says.

One of the store's newest additions in produce is lychee, a tropical fruit usually found in Asia and southern Africa. A great source of Vitamin C and Potassium, the palm-sized fruit resembles a raspberry, but is firmer and must be peeled before eating. Its texture and taste are reminiscent of a plum. 

Though organic produce is a tad more costly, the store works hard to keep their prices low; most of the products are only a few pennies more than the cost junk food favorites.

"Available and affordable, that's the concept," Wood says. "The thing is, and what's most important, is that people have an alternative. A lot of people won't like what we do, but once exposed to something better, the hope is that people will naturally begin eating better.

"I think it's common sense, really."

Two such people are Frank and Nicole Raines, a young Woodbridge couple who say (in unison) that they come to the store almost every day.

"Everyone here is really cool; it's like a family vibe here," Frank, 30, says.

Frank says Goodwells' carry out prepared food is also really enjoyable, especially the store's famed "Pocket Sandwich" -- a veggie soy patty with spinach leaves, tomato and cucumber slices, alfalfa sprouts, an original tofu sauce you have to taste to believe, all wrapped in a whole wheat pita. They also offer fresh soups and a steamed veggie plate.

Just as good are the prices, Frank says, since Goodwells is cheaper than a lot of health food stores. And that Pocket Sandwhich? Only $4.

"I always walk out of here smiling," he says. "I'd like to see them get a space next door and expand. We need more vegetarian eating spots in the city."



Photos:

All photographs taken at Goodwells in MIdtown

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here



Detroit resident Ilissa Gilmore is an intern for Model D and a student at Wayne State University. Send feedback here.



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