Market takes 'locally sourced' approach seriously
By: Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
A local favorite since 1951, Ward's Supermarket has provided the community with a down home, fulfilling grocery experience. It has many of the amenities of a larger grocer, such as Publix, with a homier, more personable touch, if it was possible for a nonliving entity to be friendly. And the locally-sourced grocer is having a 62nd birthday party on Saturday, October 26 — which you totally need to go to — but more on that soon.
Despite the dreary sky and pelting rain, there was a warmth and sense of community radiating from Ward's, located at 515 NW 23rd Ave. The only "locally-owned and operated grocer in Gainesville" was definitely a lot smaller than I had imagined, as previous buzz about it made it appear that customers could buy in bulk, which makes me think of bigger chains like Costco. But that was the problem: I was thinking in terms of chain grocers and suppliers, and I know Ward's prides itself on its local touch.
One huge difference I noticed from my typical, long-time grocer Publix is the abundance and quality of each item. There didn't need to be isles and isles of sub-par products when there are select, albeit limited, types of goods sold, from produce to packaged goods. Making the rounds of Ward's, the first thing I stumbled upon was the heaping mounds of vibrant produce residing against the right wall of the store and in bins and racks nearby - and when I say heaping mounds, I don't just mean for a few items but for each freshly glistening produce item. The peppers were stacked high and were the brightest reds, oranges, greens and yellows I've seen at a supermarket, not to mention that the uniqueness of the greens, such as the Brussel's sprouts on the stalk, were a welcome, if not familiar, sight. The prices on most of the items seemed pretty standard, sweet potatoes at $.99 each and Golden Delicious apples at $1.29 per pound, for example, but the key is that much of it is locally-sourced. I just stood there like a total noob, marveling at the crisp green heads of lettuce.
As I ventured toward the back where the meat and fish counter is, I had to hand it to the GLOB Master, who specifically talked about the Ward's meats section: The selection was fantastic. There was everything from filets to entire hams, all at fairly reasonable prices. Although a tad unusual, the pre-cooked section of chicken thighs and BBQ meat under a hot light was a smart idea. Continuing on, of course there were a few isles of the pre-packaged chips, the Annie's organic cookies, the Kraft Mac & Cheese, and the boxes of Near East rice. Again, a smaller grocer leads to a smaller selection, but it was a diverse selection nonetheless, combining the best of commercial brands with locally-sourced goods.
However, the true treat of Ward's came in the form of alcoholic beverages. Bare with me here: There was a vast selection of intriguing-sounding beers, from He'Brew to Magic Hat, which was my $2.99 purchase of the day. I guarantee there will be one or two that you have never heard of and sound too good to pass up. There were also multiple selections of reasonably priced varieties of wine, including local brands like those of the Dakotah Winery.
Ward's was full of bustling Gainesville locals, from families to solo shoppers. The consumers were predominantly of that age range, as it seems a bit too far out of the way for a college students to consistently venture to. Honestly, that is what has kept me from visiting the supermarket before, along with the fact that there is not enough exclusively sold at Ward's, besides the produce, that would comprise a large enough chunk of my typical shopping list to make the journey over. Also, the one thing I couldn't shake was that not one sales associate asked if I needed any assistance, and there is no way they thought I was a typical Ward's shopper: I slowly perused isles and stared inquisitively at almost everything. I would have never even known about their 62nd anniversary shindig without looking at the small blue slips of paper at the register, which brings me to...
This Saturday, October 26, join Ward's from 10 am to 4 pm in celebrating 62 years of serving the community. Note: Aside from the aforementioned information, I would have known nothing more of the event if I had not pried the information out of my cashier. From the information he gave me, the small parking lot out front of Ward's will be closed off from parking to allow for local vendors to set up booths and sell some of their goods, including a few free samples (the cashier emphasized this fact multiple times). Ward's will still be open, but the cashier said that aside from the vendors, nothing monumental is marking this event. However, he did allude to the fact that there may be a few supermarket-specific deals that Saturday, so it is worth a visit for sure!
Despite the not-so-exuberant celebration Saturday, there is no reason not to come out to Ward's to immerse yourself in the local community, sample a few tasty local treats, and support a local staple of the Gainesville supermarket community.
Latest from Mike S. GLOB Master
Jules Friday, 25 October 2013 13:19 Comment Link
Great review on Ward's.
We have been shopping at Wards for 37 years, starting over on NW 6th Street. Always wonderful steaks and produce.
We would make a point to call Bill Ward after our grilled steak dinner- just a few hours after he had helped us at the store, to let him know how great the steaks had been.
Rave reviews always.
Paul & Jules Gollner
White Apron Catering,Inc.
Angie Shepherd Keen Friday, 25 October 2013 11:02 Comment Link
Thanks Mike for sharing Ward's anniversary event tomorrow...nice article!! Wards is such an excellent grocer with their local flare and quality organic products. There aren't too many folks that don't know about Wards and their always local freshness whether it be produce, seafood, meats, and I could go on and on. I've never had a holiday without relying on Ward's for my fresh veggies and beautiful plants and herbs! I heard about the celebration from a friend this morning so I've already decided to drive in from Earleton to partake and give thanks to Wards. WE SHOULD ALL GIVE THANKS TO WARD'S TOMORROW FOR MAKING GVILLE AN EVEN COOLER PLACE TO LIVE!!!