From PBR to caviar
When Rosanne Keily and Ron Ainspan opened the Grove Corner Market in downtown Asheville early last month, they had a vision: "a community grocery store -- one that wasn't an exclusive, upscale grocery; one that didn't just serve the natural-food population, but really served all the people living here," Keily explains. "What we wanted to be ... is a place where everybody can shop and rub shoulders with everybody else in Asheville."
Anchoring the southwest corner of the recently renovated Grove Arcade Public Market, the grocery occupies 3,500 square feet of first-floor retail space. There's also a 700-square-foot windowed balcony that will be used for dining, meetings and classes.
Accordingly, Keily, Ainspan and the market's staff have stocked the shelves with items appealing to a wide range of shoppers. Besides a large selection of conventional groceries, there are natural, organic and special-diet foods; bulk foods; beer and wine; meats; cheeses; coffee and teas; as well as a good choice of household products and health-and-beauty items.
"Whether you just need a box of crackers and a quart of milk, or something more exotic for a special occasion, the Grove Corner Market has it," proclaims Keily.
The market also features a grab-and-go deli offering coffee, sandwiches, salad and a daily soup. The deli is still expanding, notes Keily, promising, "There'll be things people can take home at night for dinner or eat at lunch."
The balcony area, which Keily calls "the perch," is scheduled to open in early February. "People can grab something to eat and come upstairs," she explains. "They can even drink beer and wine on the premises -- so in the evening after work, they could stop and visit with a friend up there."
As with any downtown business, parking can be an issue, Keily acknowledges. But the city has designated a parking space right in front of the store strictly for the business's use. After shopping, she explains, "People can leave their groceries, go get their car -- so they don't have to carry a bunch of groceries three blocks away -- pull up, and we'll load them up."
Part of the store's mission is to support local food producers and distributors, and Keily and Ainspan are working with the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project. "We have a lot of wonderful products in the area," notes Keily. The business, she emphasizes, is actively seeking local food products and encourages local producers to contact them. "It's so important to us," she exclaims. "But we've been so busy, we don't always have time to look."
Together with the adjacent specialty stall market, notes Keily, "We really have a full-service grocery store." The stalls feature a variety of vendors, such as The Big Cheese (offering 80 different selections); A Bird For All Seasons (featuring both fresh and cooked free-range poultry), the Sunny Grove Farmer's Market (offering dried beans, fruit, snacks, local honey, cured hams and fresh, free-range eggs) and Pie in the Sky (featuring homemade pies, whole or by the piece). A fish vendor will open a stall in the near future. And when the weather warms up, there'll be sidewalk stalls where local farmers can sell their produce.
So far, reports Keily, shoppers seem more than pleased with this new venture. "Everybody comes in and says, 'You have everything I need!' People are so fascinated by the mix. ... There are a lot of folks who eat some natural foods and some conventional, and then sometimes they want something special -- a special cheese or a special sauce. So it's a very interesting, eclectic collection of groceries -- everything from the staples to a bit more exotic."
Choosing which products to offer wasn't left to guesswork. For months before opening the store, Keily and Ainspan surveyed the downtown community on what their needs are. Besides distributing copies of a community survey all over town and posting it on the Internet, the two also met and talked with residents of both the Vanderbilt and Battery Park apartments. "These people had to go all the way up to Ingles [on Merrimon Avenue] to go to the grocery store -- it was crazy."
The response was "fabulous," notes Keily. "I have over 500 surveys that I've gotten back. We collated them and put them in a data base so that we could get a sense of what people were looking for. In the latest surveys, we even asked for specific products. So it was really good information.
Both partners have long histories in the grocery business. Ainspan owns Mountain Food Products, a local produce distributor, and The Fresh Quarter, a produce stall in the Grove Arcade Public Market. Keily has worked in the food industry for 16 years, including five years at the French Broad Food Co-op (three of them as general manager). Store manager Kevin Mills comes to the new business by way of The Fresh Market, where he was a co-manager and a beer-and-wine buyer. Buyer/manager Susan Decker has more than 20 years' experience in all aspects of the natural-foods industry, from production to retail, most recently at Whole Foods in Winston-Salem.
Grove Corner Market hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 225-4949.
-- Lisa Watters
The best for your little sprout
If you're the parent of an infant or young tot, ask yourself this question: How much do you really want to spend on flimsy disposable diapers made in a factory by people who might or might not know the first thing about baby care?
Little Sprouts Natural Baby Products, a local home-based diaper superstore, offers an alternative to traditional store-brand diapers: several types of cloth diapers not found in stores, most of which are personally made by experienced at-home moms.
"By using many different products on our own children and by gathering information from other parents, we've been able to create a remarkable selection," explains Kelly Stephenson, a mother who brainstormed Sprouts along with co-creator/fellow mom Lori Hemphill.
Baby Greens Countered Diapers, their most popular product, is made of hemp and unbleached-cotton fleece. Hemp, says Stephenson, has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that help prevent diaper rash.
Proraps All-in-One Diapers, which require no cover, contain multiple layers of 100 percent cotton "bird's-eye" fabric plus a built-in middle liner and a waterproof exterior. They're available in four sizes, including one for newborns (which offers a belly-button cutout to keep the umbilical cord dry).
Chinese Prefolds are the same high-quality diapers used by diaper services. They're said to be one of the softest types available. Xaboke Organics Prefold Diapers are 100 percent unbleached organic cotton bird's-eye. They're even stitched with organic thread that's completely free of dyes, chemicals and pesticides. Baby Greens Doublers, made of hemp/cotton fleece and hemp/cotton French terry, are liners designed for extra protection overnight or on a busy day when baby is out and about. Mamasita's Baby Dry-Liners are made of microfleece that wicks moisture away from baby's skin, reducing the likelihood of diaper rash.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, Sprouts will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 70 Covington St. in West Asheville (call for directions, or check the extensive Web site: www.littlesproutsdiapers.com). A drawing will award one winner a basketful of quality diapers of various types. It's also a chance to meet the diaper-making moms themselves, who'll be on hand to answer questions about their products or about diapering in general.
"It will be a great educational forum for anyone who would like to learn the basics of using and washing cloth diapers," promises Stephenson. "It's also an opportunity for those who already have children in diapers to see all of our new and wonderful products."
Common questions about cloth diapers are also addressed on the Web site. "There are no stupid questions," declares Stephenson. "We really believe in our product, and we're eager to share what we know with our customers."
Cloth diapers, says the Web site, are more cost-efficient than disposables and also better for babies' skin, because they lack chemicals that can cause minor irritation.
"Diapering a baby with disposables for only one year costs as much as diapering a baby with cloth for up to three years," reads one Web page. Plus they're more durable. "Wet diaper covers can be dried out and used more than once before washing," it adds.
Although Little Sprouts is not a walk-in retail store, the Web site provides photos and detailed descriptions of all the merchandise; customers craving a face-to-face experience may also schedule an appointment. Online orders are delivered in one to two business days; the store even offers free delivery to Asheville addresses.
For more information or to make an appointment, call Lori or Kelly at (828) 281-1058.
-- Larisa Harrill
Local unemployment rate stays low
Knock on wood, but the unemployment rate in the Asheville "metropolitan statistical area" -- which consists of Buncombe and Madison counties -- continues to remain significantly lower than the state and national averages.
According to the latest statistics from the state Employment Security Commission, the national unemployment rate climbed from 5.7 percent in October to 6 percent in November, and the state rate rose from 6 percent to 6.1 percent. In the Asheville MSA, the rate increased from 3.5 percent to 3.6 percent.
Tom Tveidt, director of the Community Research Center at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, believes that one of the reasons for the low unemployment rate "is that this area continues to add jobs. The last report, that came out in November, had a 1.9 [percent] increase in nonfarm jobs -- which is very unusual, considering that most metropolitan areas are still losing jobs. Right now, we're 16th highest in the nation for job growth for nonfarm jobs."
Compared to November 2001, the national unemployment rate was up (from 5.6 percent to 6 percent), the state rate was down (from 6.5 percent to 6.1 percent), and the rate for the Asheville MSA was also down (from 3.9 percent to 3.6 percent).
Another positive sign for our area, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is that the average annual salary in the Asheville metro area grew by 3.7 percent during 2001-02, outpacing the national average (which increased by 2.4 percent). But the average annual salary for Asheville ($28,524) is still 33 percent below the average for all 324 metro areas in the nation. Among North Carolina's 11 metro areas, Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill had the highest average pay -- nearly 36 percent above Asheville's.
-- Lisa Watters
Seminar aims to help entrepreneurs
Whether you're a budding or a seasoned small-business owner, you might want to check out "Starting, Owning and Operating a Business: The Entrepreneurial Spirit Seminar" on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Haywood Community College auditorium. The free event is sponsored by two local student organizations -- Students in Free Enterprise and Phi Theta Kappa.
The seminar, explains Joseph Fox (the adviser for both organizations), is "aimed at potential entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial educators and trainers."
A host of speakers and panelists will discuss assorted business-related topics. First up is Jay Hinson of Haywood County Economic Development, who'll report on the state of the economy in Haywood and surrounding counties. Next, Dean of Student Services Janice Gilliam will describe the entrepreneurial initiative on campus. Two panels will follow: one made up of the directors of local small-business centers, the other of high-school instructors who are teaching entrepreneurial skills.
Carolyn Porter of Southwestern Community College will talk about e-commerce and how to start an online business. Pat Cabe of Handmade in America will discuss several of that organization's initiatives. And finally, Ellen Baker of the Mountain Microenterprise Fund will discuss sources of funding available for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and Phyllis Childers of NC REAL Enterprises will talk about the resources her organization offers to assist budding entrepreneurs.
To register or for more information, contact Joseph Fox at 627-4534, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Lisa Watters
UBS PaineWebber workshop touts conservation
"Socially responsible investment" is the term used to describe investments that are guided by ethical preferences as well as the traditional goals of generating income and growth. SRI financial advisers Glenn L. Magley and Kale Olson of UBS PaineWebber have taken this concept a step further, sponsoring a series of workshops spotlighting easy, practical ways to do well by doing good.
At a lunchtime presentation at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel on Jan. 15, UNCA Professor Richard Maas spoke on "Growing Profits and Preserving the Environment," providing an exciting look at current and near-term technologies that can help achieve goals sometimes seen as antithetical.
For an investment of $300 or less, Maas explained, the average Asheville household can cut $30 a month from its combined energy-and-water costs using products available at local building-supply stores. The savings, he said, are so immediate and substantial that even putting the purchases on a high-interest credit card makes sense. If North Carolina made such retrofits a statewide goal, Maas observed, we could start mothballing coal-fired power plants -- and save money doing it. Fortune 500 companies, he said, are already embracing such strategies worldwide, boosting profits enormously by curbing waste.
Maas also reported on a breakthrough in hydrogen-fuel-cell technology that has dropped the cost of this super-efficient, clean-energy power source (for an auto) from $10,000 to $3,500 -- meaning the fuel savings on a new electric car will now more than cover the higher sticker price. Zero-emissions electric vehicles -- slated to appear on showroom floors this year -- will now be cheaper to own and operate than internal-combustion models.
Solar power, too, is on the verge of a major expansion, he said. The world's largest solar-collector manufacturing plant opened in the U.S. last fall, immediately boosting domestic production by 20 percent. The United Solar Systems plant, which produces flat-sheet collectors in continuous sheets similar to vinyl flooring, is turning out three miles of the material every day. Due to this and other improvements, Maas predicted that installed solar capacity in the U.S. will more than double in 2003. Wind power, meanwhile, is also taking off, reported Maas, with modern turbines producing electricity for one-third the cost of coal plants. The first "wind map" of North Carolina is due to be released next month, enabling Tar Heel entrepreneurs to accurately site new wind-power facilities.
In short, Maas argues that if we chose to facilitate the adoption of these new technologies, coal- and nuclear-fired power plants would soon become too expensive to operate profitably. This cost breakthrough could come as soon as 2007.
You don't even need a portfolio in order to jump on the SRI bandwagon. Simply buying compact-fluorescent bulbs (now available locally for as little as $2.50) to replace incandescents, getting a $4.50 water-conservation kit from the Asheville Water Resources Department, and installing dimmer switches (where appropriate) and a water-heater blanket can put money in your pocket while conserving precious resources.
For more information, contact Kale Olson (250-3503) or check out these energy-saving tips.
-- Cecil Bothwell