News that G&G Markets is being sold to Safeway hit me like a ton of bricks. I just didn’t see that one coming, and it’s bad news for Sonoma County for a lot of reasons — from G & G’s ongoing community involvement and financial generosity for local organizations to its willingness to give fledgling local producers space on the shelves.
The sale won’t be finalized until the end of the year, but the latter is what has me especially concerned.
Since I was a teen visiting my grandma in Santa Rosa, G&G was the place you went when you needed something unusual or hard to find. In the 1980s, that meant rarities like pickled ginger or rice noodles. Later we went for the Pasta King’s famous pesto sauce or good deli meat. More recently, it was my go-to for everything from small-production butter and arrowroot powder to holiday crab, shrimp chips and local cheeses.
It’s heaven to walk the aisles, peering at cans of Heinz spotted dick, bottles of Mexican sodas and packages of dried fish, mushrooms and unidentifiable Asian specialties. During baking season, I can count on finding just about any kind of flour, from coconut to rice, and then grabbing a box of fried rice and pork to keep me cooking. Not to mention their annual Christmas town display, something that delighted both young and old.
But every time I went, I also found dozens of little local producers just starting production. Unlike Whole Foods or Safeway, which have a fairly intensive vetting process, or Costco, which demands massive amounts of product to go on its shelves, G & G (along with Pacific Market and Oliver’s Markets) is the Sonoma County food kick starter where you can talk to a human about your idea, possibly even an owner. They have hosted live feeds of John Ash’s Good Food Hour and cooking lessons with chefs like Josh Silvers.
I admit that I’m also part of the problem. I don’t faithfully shop at G&G, usually preferring the convenience and cost of my nearby Safeway. For specialty items, I make the trek from my house to G & G or Oliver’s Markets, but for daily staples like toilet paper, milk and ice cream, proximity rules the day. I suspect many others do the same.
Acquisition of local markets seems to be accelerating. Bay Area Andronico’s supermarkets also announced this week their sale to Safeway, meaning even fewer local grocers to support local producers.
And I get it. Safeway isn’t in the business of supporting community purveyors. Its buyers make attempts, and as a regular Safeway shopper I love seeing things like Bella Rosa Coffee, Clover dairy products and Franco-American bread in my basket. But these boutique small producers are primarily loss-leaders that represent good will. Safeway can make far more money on its house brands and mass-produced consumables from companies like Frito-Lay and General Mills than it can from small batch spaghetti sauce made in Sonoma.
That’s the reality we’re living in, where small grocers get snapped up by bigger grocers, where small production companies get snapped up by international conglomerates, and where we all want chicken that costs 99 cents a pound.
So farewell to G & G. Sonoma County won’t be the same without you.