Local grocery store offers healthy, fair alternatives to chain stores

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All-natural, organic, minimally processed and fairly traded foods and personal items are layered throughout People’s Grocery Cooperative’s five aisles.

Stacy Smith, People’s general manager, said all of the store’s food items contain fewer fillers, preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones than food normally found in chain grocery stores.

“Minimum processing is simply better for you,” Smith said. “It’s like the difference between buying a Cadillac and buying a Chevy -both cars are going to get you places, but you’re going to get there in better shape in one. You get better fuel out of it, you feel better, have more energy and have less calories in a lot of cases.”

People’s, 523 S. 17th St., is the only cooperative grocery store in Manhattan, Smith said. This means that instead of an individual owning the store, people who participate in the co-op essentially own a portion of it and have a say in how it’s run. Smith said co-op members annually elect the store’s board of directors who oversee the general manager, who runs the store.

“It’s a different way of doing business,” Smith said. “The customer is part of it instead of just being a consumer.”

She said people can sign up for a membership for $55, and in turn, they will receive a 10 percent discount twice a month, newsletters on the organization and money back at the end of the year, depending on how much the member has spent.

Terrie McCants, Manhattan resident, said even though she is not a member, she shops at People’s because of its selection of organic and natural foods.

McCants said as she has gotten older, she has started to look at health from a more preventative stance, as opposed to just treating symptoms, and she said she likes People’s health and “good-living” focus.

“I like the staff knowledge here,” she said. “I can come in and say, ‘OK, I’m having a headache. What do I need to be doing to restore health?’ They have that kind of information that’s difficult to find in a supermarket – [supermarket workers] can tell you what aisles things are on, but not necessarily that added health dimension.”

Adara Leonard, People’s employee, said she has been working for the store since October and enjoys its local, laid-back atmosphere as opposed to that of a large corporation. She said she buys her groceries from the store because “it’s a lot healthier than the regular stuff you get at Wal-Mart that has all that extra crap in it.”

Tom Park, junior in economics, said he regularly shops at People’s not only because of its organic food selection, but because it gives him the opportunity to support local farmers.

Smith said a majority of the store’s items come from local vendors who are in-state or just out of state.

“We have a lot of small businesses that supply us that we’re supporting,” she said. “We’re able to get different products that you might not see in a larger store.”

Smith said one of People’s newest local products, Anthony’s Beehive, based in Lawrence and includes natural honey, beef jerky and lip balms.

People’s also offers a number of fair-trade goods like coffees, teas and chocolates. Smith said she has seen many people concerned with who made their food and where it came from.

“Fair trade is more ethical,” she said. “People making [the products] actually get paid a fair, living wage for their work. A lot of these people are women from developing countries, and in their country, they don’t have an opportunity to go to college and get a better job. So we’re helping to improve the quality of life for women and children throughout the world.”

The prices of the organic and fairly traded goods at People’s is higher than the generic products found at conglomerate stores. This, Smith said, is because the producers are actually being paid fair wages.

Park said he has no problem paying a few extra dollars if it means helping out others.

“Their prices obviously can’t compete with larger grocery stores,” he said. “They are a little more expensive in general, yet the idea that I’m supporting local business still keeps me going there.”

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