The Greenlife Grocery in downtown Asheville can feel like a tie-dyed pedestrian rush hour.
Asheville, and Western North Carolina in general, is just the kind of place where local meats and produce can be found in abundance. Even the big chains—Ingles being the local variety and headquartered in nearby Black Mountain—roll with local and organic produce, boxed and canned goods. Asheville has a farmer’s market so prominent that it gets it’s own exit off of Interstate 40, and a plethora of small town farmer’s markets and roadside produce stands can be found all throughout the area. A day could be made just randomly driving around the roads surrounding the city in an effort to find as many as possible. That said, for those looking to buy their own groceries directly in the city, our favorite choice is Greenlife just north of downtown on Merrimon Ave.
As we belly up to the smoothie bar and order two banana-strawberry-blueberry smoothies, a youngish kid with a mustache and a hair net takes our order with a smile, but then stops and looks at us with disappointment.
“Oh, sorry, you know what, we’re out of bananas.”
“Okay, no problem,” we politely accept the fact and wait for the rest of our concoction to be whipped right up. Nevermind the fact that an entire grove’s worth of bananas is hanging behind us, we allow fate to deem us not worthy of a third fruit in our beverages today.
He hands them over with a simple, “Enjoy!” and we’re left wondering if he’s going to take our money, only to eventually realize that you pay up front. It’s a trustworthy system, and while part of me immediately jumps to the conclusion that numerous customers must take advantage of the virtually free beverages, we don’t see any empty cups laying around the store. Though it’s almost hard to see anything, given the density of people to square footage as Asheville’s locals do their daily stocking up on granola, couscous and Annie’s products. We’d been shopping at various other smaller natural food stores and local chains, but the latter’s giant warehouse feeling and the former’s tendency to have more vitamins than vegetables sent us looking for something better, which is exactly what we found here in Montford, the neighborhood just north of I-240 as it cuts through town. Greenlife quickly becomes our favorite destination for all things consumable.
It’s a tough decision, though, because though Greenlife still goes by that name and is born and bred right here in AVL, it’s now owned by Whole Foods, and though—thanks to the ferocity of Ashevillians’ desire to keep the store “local”—the sign out front hasn’t changed, it’s obviously a Whole Foods when you step inside (which anyone who’s ever been to a Whole Foods knows is not a bad thing). Dollar for dollar, it’s actually significantly cheaper to shop here than at a Bi-Lo or Ingles, if you’re looking to buy local and organic. Bananas hang in brilliant yellows above the various other local and exotic imported fruits the store is known for, bin after bin of dry goods, cereals and dried fruit are in abundance, and of course a plethora of potent, tasty regional and national craft beers can be purchased alongside your foodstuffs. All without leaving the city.
For those diehards who want to keep their cash circulating strictly within the city’s limits, there’s also the completely locally owned French Broad Food Coop, which offers a very similar experience, albeit without the variety and at higher prices (reflective of a store that doesn’t have the buying power of a large chain like Whole Foods). The French Broad is a grocery store, and they also have a chocolate shop and cafe a few blocks away (the coop is located across from the Orange Peel on Biltmore Ave, the chocolate shop on South Lexington), and whatever your decision for filling up paper bags full of groceries, you should at least drop in for a sampling of the caffeinated and cocoa laden treats available therein.
The French Broad Food Coop is also considerably more enjoyable to navigate, much smaller in size and always less packed than Greenlife, but in the end both places are supporting local goods and giving back to the community, and Greenlife just so happens to have the power of Whole Foods’ supply chain to keep their prices lower.