Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Black Vinyl Friday

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 4:22 PM

  • Image by Stokkete/shutterstock

While REI can afford to close its stores in support of the Black Friday boycott, most record shops can’t. Especially now that Record Store Day organizers have unveiled the lineup of exclusive, limited-edition releases that will be available the day after Thanksgiving.

The Black Friday Record Store Day event is more low-key than its annual counterpart in April, but the releases announced today are similarly eclectic.

Hardcore crate-diggers and vinyl fetishists will be fighting over "must-have" collectibles — a pink-vinyl ninja star-shaped Ariel Pink seven-inch, a box of “Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar” trading cards, a newly written-and-recorded gold vinyl Shuggie Otis single — while ignoring "maybe they shouldn’t have" releases like… well, we’ll leave that for you to decide.

In the meantime, check out the complete list of upcoming releases
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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Building trails with thrifted clothes

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 8:27 AM

Unfortunately, not everything sold at our yard sale. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Unfortunately, not everything sold at our yard sale.
Over the weekend, my friends and I had a yard sale.

We thought we had done a pretty excellent job of it — placing signs at major intersections, letting our social networks know about the sale on Facebook and Twitter, pitching a big tent, and setting up an iPad for credit card sales. Despite our efforts, it was slow going throughout the day, and we eventually turned to our smartphones to post photos of our merchandise in an attempt to drum up sales.

It worked — to an extent. But at the end of the day, there were plenty of leftovers for the the thrift store. It was just a question of which thrift store to go to. Then I remembered that a new thrift store, Shift Thrift, had replied to one of my tweets, saying they'd love the leftovers.

I had recently heard of the store from a press release, and Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, had also emailed me to tell me about the store. It was a new shop, she wrote, and a new concept.

Shift Thrift is a social enterprise. It gives 30 percent of its proceeds to local charities — and donors get to choose what nonprofit they want to give to. Right now, donors can choose Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Kids on Bikes, The Home Front Cares, Blue Star Recyclers or Springs Rescue Mission.

Davies let me know that a similar model at Mountain Equipment Recyclers was feeding $300 to $400 per month into TOSC.

"For a small non profit like mine," she wrote, "that’s a big deal!"

Mike Mazzola, Executive Director of Shift Thrift Store, wrote that as far as he knows, this is the first thrift store of its kind in the country. He's hoping to grow the store and expand it regionally, or maybe even nationally.

For now, though, the store is just getting started in a temporary location at 218 W. Colorado Ave. (under the Colorado Avenue bridge). The store hopes to find a permanent downtown location soon. 

After we wrapped up the garage sale, my friends and I decided to reward Shift Thrift for their social media savvy. The friendly staff were excited to see us and more than happy to help us unload our bounty.

And since Davies bothered to email me, we chose to give the nonprofit proceeds to TOSC this time around. 

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The new (and old) Natural Grocers

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2015 at 4:31 PM

Yesterday, I attended a special media and marketing presentation at the new Natural Grocers on 1216 W. Baptist Road, in Monument. This location replaces the now-closed, nearby shop at 655 W. Highway 105. 

A store manager said the old staff plus new-hires compose the new store's work force, and that the space is twice the size of the former. 

Inside the presentation, company director of nutrition education Karen Falbo lectured on everything from the company's lengthy history — since 1955, opening its 100th store soon in Scottsdale, Arizona, still majority family owned though it went public in 2012 — to modern food politics and health-and-wellness principles. 
Karen Falbo lectures from a new in-store kitchen and conference room. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Karen Falbo lectures from a new in-store kitchen and conference room.
I'll say with transparency that I've been a regular Natural Grocers shopper for many years now, because on the whole I've found their prices to be much better than competitors like Whole Foods and even King Soopers and Safeway for many products. And on the whole, I choose to pay the premium for organic and truly sustainably-raised products at-home. (Though when I'm out food-reviewing for the Indy, I'm at the marketplace's mercy, where  factory-farmed proteins and chemical-laden veggies are the norm).

Anyway, Falbo pointed out some cool aspects to the company, such as living wage with full benefits for employees: for example $12 and hour for cashiers, which includes an extra $30 in-house shopping stipend weekly and store discounts. 

Also: She says Natural Grocers works closely with its suppliers to ensure ingredient integrity, going so far as to drop companies who don't meet their rigid standards, and work with those willing to switch to substitute inputs. In fact our guest packet included an 8-page handout titled "Things Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Does NOT Carry and Why." 

The new location is just a little south from the former, just off I-25 at Baptist Road. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The new location is just a little south from the former, just off I-25 at Baptist Road.
The company offers free monthly classes at each location, and each location also hosts a nutritional coach on staff that's available to the public for tours, consultation, community outreach and more. 

"This is about changing our food system" Falbo said at one point, amidst a litany of health topics that included encouraging talk of holistic land management practices; concern over organophophates in our bodies and the environment; proper omega-6 and omega-3 ratios and inflammatory foods; desertification and carbon cycles.

"But a food revolution is happening," she argues, urging that "it's time for us to become food citizens — to know who we're supporting when we buy food." 

Which gets back to Natural Grocers of course. The simplified message would be when you shop with them, you don't have to worry about any of the products you buy in-store, because their staff has already vetted them and vouched for the authenticity of ingredients and farming and ranching practices. 

By voting with your dollar here, you support these same agriculture people and help direct the marketplace toward better standards across the board. 

Now, it may sound like I've totally drank the Kool-Aid here, but bear in mind that Natural Grocers wouldn't serve that because of the artificial food coloring, for one. ... Besides, they served us green tea-coconut water-lemonade sweetened with stevia. 
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Friday, October 3, 2014

Fair trade, fossil fuels and field dressing

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 10:54 AM

Yes, these are disparate topics, but lets thread a connection through them anyway, for the purposes of promoting these upcoming events. 

Each in its own way, at its root, gets back to helping people and improving the human condition or our environment in some way. Simple as that. Here we go:

• First up, this Saturday, Oct. 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Yobel Market will join others at the annual Alternative Gift Fair at Broadmoor Community Church.
"We will bring handmade, Fair Trade jewelry, bags, scarves, skirts, aprons, sari blankets and leather products," reads a flier. "Join us in supporting artisans and individuals in the developing world!" 

Sari cloth is ubiquitous in India, where Yobel sends volunteers annually. Find saris from their fair trade partners at the Alternative Gift Fair. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Sari cloth is ubiquitous in India, where Yobel sends volunteers annually. Find saris from their fair trade partners at the Alternative Gift Fair.

• Next up — this one's for the well-armed survivalists among us, but perhaps locavores too — Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hosting free "Field Dressing and Meat Processing 101" classes at 6 and 9 p.m. on both Tuesday, Oct. 7 and Thursday, Oct. 9. Register here.
"You've filled your tag, now what? Ethical hunters not only make a clean kill, they don't waste what they harvest either. But processing game meat properly can be tricky ..." reads the release. In fact, "It's against the law to waste game meat. If you harvest an animal, it is your responsibility to remove and care for the meat."
It goes on to say that animals will be provided for hands-on learning at CPW's Southeast Region Office at 4255 Sinton Road. 

• Lastly, Operation Free (a campaign of the Truman National Security Project & the Center for National Policy) will host a free screening of The Burden on Wednesday, Oct. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ivywild School. 
According to its release, "The Burden is the first documentary to tell the story of our dependence on fossil fuels as the greatest long­‐term national security threat confronting the U.S., and how the military is leading our transition away from oil. ... After the screening, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke, and U.S. Army veteran Mike Breen will answer questions about the film."
Register here

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grocer X: Apple anarchy

Posted By on Sun, Sep 28, 2014 at 7:28 AM

  • Shutterstock
Red Delicious apples have been taking some heat lately.

“Alluring yet undesirable,” The Atlantic says of the american favorite, “the most produced and arguably the least popular apple in the United States. It lurks in desolation.” And The Washington Post’s “Why the red delicious no longer is” might as well be an obituary — as noted in the article by apple historian Lee Calhoun.

Now, I’m not about to bring up a defense for the Red Delicious — I can’t stand it — but I will point out that the majority of the apples you can name off the top of your head should be considered in the same boat.

Granny Smith: Forever jaded by the “sour green apple” flavor stereotype. If I had a watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher for every green apple I pitched growing up, I’d certainly be sporting a bigger waistline. As far as I’m concerned, the only way to make a Granny Smiths palatable is to take it out of its apple-form, say in pie or covered in caramel. Let's be honest — there are only a few ways to eat a Granny Smith.

Gala: They’re not as bad as a Granny Smith or Red Delicious, but I’m sure you’ve had sweeter. This raises the question: What are you doing here, Gala? If I’m not using you baking, and I can find a sweeter apple for eating, who are you to add to my shopping bill? Galas used to be a top seller in my stores — nicely sized, familiar and versatile — and I’m sure they still do OK, but their reign will be short-lived with the growing popularity and availability of more tantalizing apples like the Honeycrisp.

Fuji: Expensive. Though they can be grown stateside, the Fuji bears an “exotic” name and it seems like that’s what we’re paying for when they’re not on sale. I’ve had some bad experiences, and eaten Fuji apples from the U.S., New Zealand, Chile — actually, possibly from everywhere they’re grown except for Fujisaki, Japan. And if you’re another Red Delicious hater, you might like to know that the Fuji is a hybrid with Red Delicious DNA.

Golden Delicious: Don’t get me started on this waste of orchard space. I’m not a baker, or one who uses Goldens for anything else, but I still don’t see why anyone ever began buying these things in the first place. They’re milly, the skin feels weird, and you can’t even pick one up without bruising it, let alone get it home in an edible state.

Specialty apples”: Let me preface this one by saying that specialty apples are the way to go if your store carries a good stock. Outside of the staples, most stores carry at least a handful of seasonal apples during the fall and winter, and you're bound to find one that suits your fancy. The main issue you’ll run into with these is quality; that’s where the store’s stock comes in. All too often you’ll find these with wrinkled skin and hallow weight, due to a prolonged stint on the display. On top of all that, we’re going to charge you an arm and a leg for any specialty apple. And no, they’re never on sale.

Maybe there are no winners in the apple game anymore.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Grocer X: Reusable baggage

Posted By on Sat, Sep 20, 2014 at 8:42 AM

  • Shutterstock
Remember the grocery-bag glory days? That simpler time when it was just, "Paper or plastic?"

That’s not the case anymore, now that reusable bags hit the scene. Times have changed at the bagging station and, though you may think otherwise, not for the better.

Those reusable bags you tote along with eco-friendly pride, emblazoned with messages of sustainability from corporate retailers of all shapes and sizes, and making “tree huggers” green with envy from checkout counter to checkout counter, have become the bane of any bagger's existence.

Before, back in those glory days, it was simple:

"Plastic? Sure thing. Thanks for coming in today.”

“Paper?” (A little more work.) “No problem, have a good one.”

And there were only a handful of the infuriating “Paper inside of plastic” requests. (Really, if you’re one of those people, you’re the worst.) 

Now, you and your reusable bags come into my line all, “Yeah, I need this, that, this and the other thing in this bag, and pack ’em full, but not too heavy. And, don’t worry, I’ll freak out to let you know you’re doing it wrong anyway.”

Don’t get me wrong; reusable bags are great. Who needs an expanding collection of haggard, empty plastic shopping bags lying around the house? And yeah, they’re helpful for the environment.

But the fact is they are a pain to work with, all of them, and they always will be. I’ve seen so many different sizes, shapes, colors, materials and any other bag variable you can think of, and they are all a nightmare to pack.

All we want is to get you out of our checkout line a quickly as possible, but after figuring out how to unfold your handy bags from their “convenience pocket,” or just trying to keep the damn things open long enough to put an item into it, it doesn’t work out. The result: You’re in a bad mood, I’m in a worse mood, and chances are you’ll find your items in a state of disarray when unpacking at home.

You can see the loathing right in front of you — at least I can, when I’m using my reusable bags at the store. You neatly unload your cart and place your bags in plain view on the belt, only to hear a not so subtle sigh of “OMG, I hate this person” coming from the bagger at the end of the line. Or maybe he even tries to throw your items into plastic bags, pretending he didn't see your reusables.

So what are you supposed to do? I don’t know. Maybe there is no easing the pain for the new-aged bagger, or maybe they’ll get more used to it. Then there’s always the option of — gasp! — bagging your order all by yourself.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Grocer X: For the love of gameday

Posted By on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 1:30 PM

  • Shutterstock
The grill’s in the tailgate, chili’s on the stove, and you’re suited in full regalia: it’s football season, and Lord knows you love gameday.

You love it so much you’re willing to spend endless hours mastering each layer of your seven layer bean dip, while smoking mountains of meat and negotiating fantasy trade proposals each and every Sunday (sometimes Monday, and a Thursday here and there).

Such a love calls for many sacrifices, but those sacrifices shouldn’t include the agony of prolonged exile from the one you love. So why then are you wasting precious time in the grocery on the sacred day?

I could say something like, "Put your gameface on and score a touchdown with…" but I’m not joking around anymore. If you’re a serious fan looking to cut through the endless pregame and get down to business, spend the least amount of time in the grocery store with this list:

Go early, because every other fan, family, and a multitude of church congregations make their way to the store around the same time the first games start. Besides, you’ll already be up; prepping whatever meat you’ll demolish later on, or agonizing over your fantasy lineups.

Going early — before 10 a.m.-ish — will clear you of most the annoyances of the gameday shopping trip; shorter wait times at the checkout and service counters, newer, plentiful stock, and more veteran employees to get you in and out. (Veteran employees tend to be more inclined to offer a helping hand, they’re used to it.) Chances are some items won’t be stocked yet, but if we’re ordering like we should those items are in the back.

Know before you go, because you can’t make bacon-wrapped jalapeños without jalapeños, and your gluttonous queso recipe is screwed without Velveeta. You’re not the only one who’s “known for your (whatever),” everyone else is on the same level — so yeah, we run out of stuff on gameday.

All I can tell you is that if you didn’t go early, and you’re really concerned about how many pounds of tomatillos we’ll have in stock for your salsa verde, call and ask. It’s hard to tell what tailgating trend is going to hit from week to week; sometimes it’s chili, other times it’s pulled pork, but it’s up to you to be ahead of the game. Puffin’ your chest out and getting all broey with we employees isn’t going to get you anywhere when we’re out of something, I don't care how new that Manning jersey is.

Don’t bring the family, because you know the reason why. The kids are running amuck looking for toys and “snacks,” and your significant other is prepared to conquer a list suited for the entire week. Toting the family along will only increase the amount of time and money you’re spending in the store on gameday. This cannot happen. You need to be in and out, like your chances at the playoffs in your fantasy league, so unless your entire family has their eyes set on the same goal you do, leave them at home.

Practice makes perfect. It’s not easy being the best at anything, but you’ll have more time to practice your gameday rituals if you take my advice and get your pigskin lovin’ self out the grocery store as soon as possible.

— Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Grocer X: The last holiday

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 8:20 AM

  • Shutterstock
We’re staring Labor Day right in the face and, because this is America, that means we’re looking at our last big barbecue holiday of the summer. (I mean really, what else is Labor Day good for?) But as you ready for your final summertime-soirée shopping trip, keep in mind what happened during the last holiday, and probably the one before that, and definitely the one before that.

Remember? You took yourself to the store not only on the day of your gathering, but within a couple hours of your guests arriving, thinking that it would all go swimmingly and you’d be out the door and prepping to party in no time. Unfortunately, everyone and their mother had the same bright idea, and you found yourself battling for a parking spot, cursing the barren shelves, and forced to wait in checkout lines longer than your patience can handle. Remember?

It was an awful experience; everyone, customers and employees alike, were in the worst of moods, and you had to skip some of your usual summertime staples.

So why on Earth, you should ask yourself, would you ever go holiday shopping on a holiday?

How can you be the least bit surprised that the store might run out of red-white-and-blue cupcakes on the 4th of July? Is it really that unbelievable that none of the avocados for sale on Memorial Day are ripe enough to use? Do you plan all our your get-togethers mere hours before they happen? 

I’m not talking about the "Oops, I forgot the blueberries" trip here. I’m talking about the "Our friends will be here in an hour and I need every single component of my BBQ before they get here" trip.

We in the grocery industry plan our holiday stocking through the weeks leading up to it, with the busiest days just prior to. But the holiday stops when the day comes. So while we’d love to have an ample amount of every item you’ll surely be looking for, we’re more worried about time-sensitive packaging and your aversion to buying anything in American flag wrapper after the 4th of July. The risk of sitting on a shipment of “Corn Cobblers” for a year is too great to try and accommodate your shopping procrastination.

It’s not just the summer holidays; the “Holiday Season” everyone knows and loves is a whole other nightmare, but the message is the same: Holidays are for holidays, not for shopping.

So enjoy your Labor Day, the whole day, away from the grocery store.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grocer X: The plight of the shopping cart

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 8:13 AM

  • Shutterstock
Used, abused, neglected and abandoned; this is the life of shopping cart. Hauling all your items around while you wander from aisle to aisle, it’s the workhorse of your shopping trips. You cherish the cart when you’re in the store; you protect it, you trust it with your children and to handle your food, you rely on it every trip. So what changes when you get to the parking lot? What treachery has come to light that has you abandoning your trusted pack mule on the side of the curb, or wedged in between parking spaces?

You know you’ve done it. You’ve placed your bags in the car, glanced over your shoulders to ensure no passersby or employees bear witness to the coming betrayal, and you’ve turned your back, setting your shopping companion afloat in the sea of parking spaces. It doesn’t even matter if the “cart corral” — or whatever other cutesy name they have — is conveniently located near you or not, you don’t bat an eye, not even a look back in the review mirror.

Left alone and unwanted, shopping carts are forced to face the most extreme weather conditions, scarred by the elements of the seasons with the only hope that their 16 year old shepherds can take a break from bagging groceries and bring them to safety. Their wheels are broken, with bearings rusted-through, and they yearn for a dented frame over the ever-looming threat of kidnapping by the homeless — what a life.

You’re right, ‘it’s someone else’s job’ to bring the carts in from the lot. But their job should only be to bring in the carts from the corrals, not trailblazing through the depths of the property in search for those left behind. On top of bagging groceries, mopping floors, and restocking items to the shelves, organizing a local search party for the missing shopping carts strewn across the parking lot shouldn’t have to be on the daily agenda.

All this is to say that when you’re done with your shopping cart put it where it belongs.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grocer X: Picking Perfection

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 8:41 AM

  • ShutterStock
Summertime in the produce department means a wide variety of the sweetest-smelling soft fruits, a plethora of melon options, and grilling vegetables just aching for char marks. To some, myself included, you can’t ask for a better produce season. But picking summer produce can be risky, and there’s nothing worse than finding yourself on the losing side of a watermelon gamble at your Labor Day barbecue.

I’m sure you’ve seen the “naturally ripe,” and “picked at the peak of perfection” claims emblazoned on the sides of peach boxes and stamped on avocado stickers. All lies. The truth is, unless you’re making some poor sap of a clerk pick all your produce for you, you’re on your own out there. And the more expensive it gets, the less confident you become in your picking prowess. Eventually, you starve yourself of the summer’s sweetest flavors.

Now, I’m not going to say I’m an expert — though plenty of you call us clerks, “the produce expert” — or that it’s my way or the highway, and I’m certainly not going to give you an engrossing list of tricks. I’ll just pick a few of your summertime staples and let you take it from there.

Look at my melons
All innuendo aside, melons are hot in the summertime: cantaloupe, honeydew, Santa Clause, canary, whatever suits your fancy. But with different kinds of melons come different ways of picking.

The fabled “watermelon thump” really is the best way to pick a watermelon. Color shouldn’t be a big concern — unless it’s something other than green — so give it thump with your thumb and listen for that hollow sound. Cantaloupes are a different animal. Yeah, sniffing the button to catch a whiff of the flavor works sometimes, but it’s not a tell-all. Personally, I look for sweet spots (the spots on the skin that resemble bruises), and a drier rind. Some people say to shake it to see if the seeds on the inside are loose, so I’ll do that too, if only for giggles. What you want is anything that shows that the ’loupe is using up its built-up moisture and thus, is ripe.

Honeydew is actually pretty easy, no sniffing or assaulting necessary. All you need from honeydew is a waxy residue on the rind to know it’s ready to go. Seriously, waxy like a candle. Don’t ask me how that works.

Guac and awe
Granted, avocado is more than just a summer favorite, it’s a year-round superfood. I don’t need to tell you what a ripe avo looks like — the problem is when all we have is the greenest of the green on display, and your party starts this afternoon. You’ve heard of the brown-paper-bag ripening theory, but that hasn’t helped me quell my guacamole cravings in the past.

If you’re looking to hasten the ripening of an avocado, pop the remaining portion of the stem off the top and get it into some serious sunlight — I’ll sometimes leave them on the dashboard in the car for a while.

Pineapple with a cherry on top
I’ll get the pineapple myth out of the way and tell you that no, loose leaves at the top don’t always mean it’s ripe. Go for color; the darker hues of yellow, blended with lighter shades of brown, ensure that pineapple being sweet on the inside. You’ll smell the flavor, too. If you’re looking for a more tart flavor, look for some lighter greens turning to yellow.

As for cherries, usually one of the most expensive summer favorites, there’s a reason for the iconic red cherry. The deeper the red, the sweeter the cherry — just be mindful of any wrinkling on the skin. Even with Rainier cherries (yellow and red), I go for the bag with the most red visible. Who knows if there’s a science behind this — I’m just thinking, “If colors were flavors, yellow would be more tart than red.” Call me crazy, but my instincts save me from pitching $7 bags of cherries more often than not.

Through all my years of picking, placing, tasting and sampling summertime produce stock, I’ve realized that Mom’s plucking of the leaves from the top of a pineapple, or taking a whiff of the button of a cantaloupe, doesn’t always ensure the fresh, crisp flavors we’re looking for. There’s always that chance that those perfect-looking peaches will be pithy and plain, and honeydew will always be kind of mysterious, but now you have some new tricks to pick your produce and you can leave the clerks alone.

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Grocer X: Self-checkout, you’re doing it wrong

Posted By on Sun, Aug 3, 2014 at 7:00 AM

  • ShutterStock
In light of recent events, that being a shooting at a local grocery, I could give you more on the terrifying perils grocery workers face day in and day out, but I’m not into the doom and gloom this week.

I’ve realized that you, the customer, face your own nightmares every time you walk through the automatic doors. Sure, they’re probably not the monsters that haunt my dreams (though, admittedly, some employees can be pretty awful too), but a group of teenage shoplifters firing weapons in the parking lot could be added to that list. Maybe your outlook is a little less dramatic, and you just like to be in and out of the store as quickly as possible all the time. The point is, you want your shopping trips to be as streamlined as possible and that usually means you look to the self-checkout to make it happen.

Now, if you’re someone who brings a $200 order to the self-check and blunders through what seems like hours to scan, weigh, and bag all your groceries by yourself, you’re a terrible person and this post won’t help you.

Yeah, I know, “those things never work,” and “they always get things wrong,” but I’m telling you right now it’s usually operator error. It’s really not that hard; scan an item to start, enter your membership-whatever (if you have one), finish scanning your items, pay, and leave.

Everything you need to complete your order is right there for you. The scale, an item guide, a keypad, carry bags, sometimes even an employee, are all you could possibly need to do it yourself — “self-checkout,” get it?
When the sirens are blaring and the machine screams what might as well be, “this person doesn’t know what they’re doing,” it’s usually because you don’t know an item code, tried to use some coupons or marked-down items, or you brought your own shopping bags. These minor, everyday things become the bane of your existence as the line of faces glaring and judging your ineptitude grows longer with each flash of the red light above you.

Want to avoid such humiliation?

If you have coupons make sure you don’t have a lot. One, maybe two, shouldn’t be a problem, but an attending clerk will have to help you either way (Same goes for marked-down items.) Your best bet is to go see the clerk right off the bat; sometimes they can ring you up on the spot.

Produce, baked goods or anything else without a barcode is reason enough for some to avoid the self-checkout all together, but they’re not hard to figure out either. The machine expects you to give it a number to look up, the number you’re looking for is the “PLU,” look at the sticker on an apple or banana and you’ll see it. You can find them on the price tags, stickers, and sometimes the ads, all you need to do is remember it and give it to the machine — write them down if you have to. After you enter the number, it’s as simple as setting it on the scale, or selecting the quantity — wham, bam, thank you madam.

As for your reusable bags, there’s something you should know about the bagging platform at the self-check; it’s weight sensitive. If you set your bags on the platform, or anything that the scanner hasn’t seen, the machine thinks you’ve bagged an item without ringing it up. Some may ask if you’re using your own bags but the feature rarely works, and a clerk will still have to bypass it for you. The best workaround I’ve found is to leave your reusable bags out of the picture until your receipt is printed, then bag everything at once. It may feel a bit unorganized, but if your main goal is to avoid human interaction of any kind, it’s your best bet.

You no longer have to be the symbol of incapability when using the self-checkout lanes if you heed my advice. So, put your smart pants on and show those machines you’re not the idiot it thought you were.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grocer X: Fear and loathing in the checkout lane

Posted By on Sun, Jul 20, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  • Shutterstock
The quality of time you spend at the checkout counter can make or break your grocery-shopping experience.

The good times have you whisking to the front of the line, welcomed by the warmest of smiling faces offering a friendly chat — maybe even tipping you off to some additional savings — and getting you back to your car with no remorse for spending vast amounts of money. Consider yourself lucky if this is your usual experience.

The bad times, obviously more notable, have you waiting in long lines snaking haphazardly around the front of the registers as distress calls for “checkout service” ring constant from the overhead speakers. Your mood worsens as you watch the register clerks leaving their posts to check price tags at the other end of the store, and again when the elderly gentleman in front of you realizes he left his wallet in the car, scoots his walker across the floor, and assures everyone he’ll be “really quick.” By the time you’re finally out the door, you’ve sworn to never come back more times than you can count, and told several employees you plan to have them fired, while your expensive cuts of beef sit stewing at room temperature and beads of ice cream run down the sides of the container. Terrible.

Those of us on the other side of the conveyor belt see it little differently. There are hardly any good times for people tapping in hundreds of produce codes and scanning handfuls of crumpled, illegible coupons, but there certainly are plenty of bad times. It should be noted that not everyone working a register loathes the thought of being there; it may be that I’m not what you call a “people person” in the traditional sense.

Take the opening lines from an old journal entry I wrote after a particularly awful day at the register:

Face to face with a six-foot Gila monster, I find myself alone in my predicament and past the point of no return. Lashing its tongue in an unrecognizable dialect and flailing its arms — claws gripping a stack of clipped paper savings — this one is ready for a fight.

Harsh, I know. But the truth is, we never know what kind of monstrosity we’ll have to deal with after handing the receipt over to the last customer.

Of course there are shoppers we all love to see, those friendly, familiar faces asking about our days off and more than willing to talk about anything other than groceries — a shining few — but I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about the jerk holding up the line by adding random items to his order just so he can sneak his way to another gas discount, even though he doesn’t know how the promotion works. I’m talking about the “multi-tasking mom,” cranium-deep in a call on her cell and failing to cognitively answer any of my questions while her children wreak havoc among the candy displays, and to the coupon-issuer starting off the transaction with, “I hope you do this right.” These are the monsters I’m talking about.

It makes sense, I guess, that we checkers suffer some of the most abusive forms of human interaction; we’re essentially just bill collectors. But why is it my fault that all those frozen dinners you bought didn’t net you the free gallon of ice cream they did last week, or that the printed ad you brought along is two weeks old and none of the prices match? I don’t care how long you’ve shopped at the store — we have policies, and those coupons are three months expired. Is it really something to throw a fit about?

If only you could see yourselves, in all your glory, lambasting me over the promotional price of a candy bar, or because we stopped carrying that obscure item that literally no one else but you will buy. Maybe then you’ll recognize the predatory nature of your behavior. Maybe you’ll recognize that 9 times out of 10, the customers, you, are actually wrong, and your reasons for taking it out on me would baffle even the most immature of 5-year-olds.

Believe me, I really do try my best to get you in and out the door as quickly and happily as possible. The last thing I want is to spend more time with the ticking time bombs waiting in my line. But I need your help. Or, no, just some common courtesy.

Looking down the row of faces in my line I see more of them; coldblooded creatures walking upright, talking on cell phones, even handling money. How has it come to this? Who let this happen? This is a grocery store, not a goddamn reptile sanctuary.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grocer X: Violence in the produce department

Posted By on Sun, Jul 13, 2014 at 8:28 AM

The next time you find yourself in your favorite produce department or farmers market take a moment to revel in the innocence. Look at all the shelves and tables stacked neatly with bright-colored citruses and aromatic soft-fruits, or the wetted vegetables set glistening in front of mirrors and flowering from the wall racks. It’s a serene landscape of staple culinary ingredients, offering visions of a healthier lifestyle with the richest colors Mother Nature has to offer.

A produce department is a symbol of innocence, but unequipped to handle the barbarous assaults subjected to it day after day, leaving it broken, battered and beaten, all in the name of perfection.

Who would wreak such havoc on this unsuspecting utopia of agricultural wonder you ask? Of course the answer is you — though I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s unintentional.

Think about it: How many tomatoes do you pick up, squeeze, then set back down before finding the one you want? How many ears of corn do you peel and toss aside before choosing the “best” one? How often do you excavate the salad cooler just to find the “freshest” date on a bag of salad? How many times have you left a bag of spinach on top of the fresh spinach, just because you changed your mind?

Based on my experience, I’ll say that nine out of 10 shoppers NEVER end up buying the first apple, head lettuce or bunch of bananas they pick up — it’s like a motor reflex. You pick the first one up, sometimes you’ll take a quick glance, but for whatever reason that first pick is never good enough, ever. Then, it’s just a matter of how many picks you’ll make before you finally decide, and where you'll stash the items you don't want.

Why did you pick them up in the first place? What exactly is the reason why it isn’t worthy of making it into your basket?Is it too much to ask of you to put it back where you found it? Do you even realize you’re doing this?!

What’s left at the end of the shopping day is a derelict mass of rejected first picks, strewn across the shelves and racks where they don't belong, patiently waiting for their last ride on my produce cart to the trashcan. I’m left with the guilt of discarding all the would-be kale apple salads, banana breads and eggplant parmesans, and the ominous task of re-stacking their counterparts to face a similar demise the next day.

What I’m saying is plan your picking: no more of this "don’t pick first pick" nonsense when it comes to your produce. I’m not saying to never inspect your produce — of course you should — I’m just asking that you do so with a less-critical eye. And, for heaven's sake, put things back where they belong. 

Imagine if you were poked and prodded by unfamiliar faces, examined with critical eyes and dropped off in a strange location to await the nightly culling, just because you don’t meet unrealistic beauty standards. Apparently, the whole “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” mantra doesn’t apply when you’re picking produce, but it should.

I doubt you’re eating tomato heels on a regular basis (at least, you shouldn’t be) so the slight discoloring at the stem shouldn’t turn you off, and so what if an outer leaf of lettuce is broken, or dented; chances are the inner leaves are still to your liking. Those cantaloupes that “don’t look too good” to you very well may be the sweetest on the display, and what difference does it make if there’s a scar on the peel of an orange? Do you eat that too?

Unless your daily meals are on the cover of some food magazine, or for some reason none of the filters on Instagram are good enough, there’s no reason for you to be scouring the displays in search of the perfect peach or that quintessential kiwi. You may not notice the damage caused by doing so, but the carnage in the market left in your wake is like that of a conquered village; a battered skeleton of what it used to be.

Thanks for shopping with us.

— Grocer X

The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (
@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

An open letter to you, the consumer

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 7:00 AM

I am Grocer X.

I am every smiling face and friendly greeting welcoming you to the register at your neighborhood grocery, and I am the disgruntled, tired and tormented soul hiding underneath.

You’ve seen me before, stocking the aisles with your favorite foodstuffs, arranging apples and shucking ears of fresh corn. I’ve even guided you happily through the darkest corners of the condiment aisle in your futile search for mango chutney, mopping floors and looking for “that thing” you bought one time. I’m the one who’s been up since 1 a.m. — seven days in a row — and whose vacation was canceled due to whatever-parent’s-day weekend.

I am the teenager holding a summer job, the middle aged working-class American and the “lifer” closing in on retirement.

I know you, too. You’re one of our “regular” shoppers; chatting it up with all the employees during your daily trips to the store. You’re the extreme coupon-isseur; reviewing your receipts, item by item, making sure all the hours you’ve spent clipping paper savings weren’t in vain. You’re the poor soul sent to the store for an item you’ve never heard of, wandering aimlessly in your search but too proud to ask where it is until the frustration is too much to bear.

Our time spent together during your weekly shopping trips, your in-and-out stops and your daily routines has been civil, consistent, sometimes even a little pleasant, and I expect that will continue. I know I’m difficult to deal with from time to time with my confusing receipts and seemingly foreign pricing language and promotion rules and restrictions. And I’m sorry we stopped carrying your favorite flavored Kool-Aid packets, and that the prices at my store are so much higher than the (insert store name here) down the street.

But I forgive you too, for all the times you’ve told me how beautiful it is outside and “it’s too bad [I] have to work” (I know), for all the items you’ve wedged into any place except where they belong, and for all the times you’ve dropped a packet of blueberries on the floor and didn’t tell anyone about it.

Let’s put all of that behind us.

We HAVE to spend time together so why not make that time a little less frustrating, for all our sakes?

I come to you now not to attack or belittle you, or to beg you to make my job a little easier, but because I believe we can find common ground.

I believe we can live in a world where grocers can understand the buyers’ need to purchase five gallons of milk — to get two free — and that there may be a time when customers realize why all the clerks are unhappy during the holidays (it’s because we’re working every holiday).

In the coming posts, I’ll bring you insights from my years of experience working in the depths of the grocery aisles. I’ll walk you through your holiday and special event shopping trips, ease the suffering of those dreaded visits to the customer service counter, and help you overcome your fear of buying the ugliest of cantaloupe and pineapple (they’re the sweetest).

I am not a wholesaler. I’m not selling you clothing, toys, or electronics. I am the middleman between you and one of your most vital necessities: your groceries. Let me guide you through the aisles and help you help me, help us.

Thanks for shopping with us.

The big reveal: The man behind the apron is Craig Lemley, digital content coordinator here at the Indy. The Colorado Springs native spent nearly a decade working in grocery stores across the Pikes Peak region before retiring his produce knife for a surprisingly less-stressful media career. Follow him on twitter (@_CraigLemley) or send questions/comments to

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Local businesses thrived on Small Business Saturday

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Sparrow Hawk Cookware shows some love
  • Sparrow Hawk Cookware shows some love
For all you supporters of Small Business Saturday, your purchases did not go unnoticed. If you sought out an alternative to the Black Friday madness, you helped contribute to the $5.7 billion spent on the fourth annual Small Business Saturday. 

Local businesses like Sparrow Hawk Cookware gave a shout out on their Facebook page to all those who came out for the cause. All across the nation, this day has helped to "support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods," according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). 

With consumer awareness at 71 percent this year, a four percent jump from last year, businesses across the national saw a boost in both consumer traffic and sales, according to the 2013 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey. 

"We are very pleased that so many Americans sought to give back by shopping small this Small Business Saturday. We hope that support of small firms, retailers, restaurants and other independent businesses continues throughout the holiday season and all year round," says NFIB CEO Dan Danner in a press release. "Continued support of this vital sector is one important way to ensure our economy fully recovers and a healthy private sector is restored.”

So, to all those who spread the word via social media and came out to support local businesses such as Sparrow Hawk, among many others, the huge turnout shows that this small day is getting bigger each year. 
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