7 years ago, when I told people I lived downtown their first response was to gasp, look over both shoulders, and ask in a low voice “Aren’t you scared?” Occasionally people still ask me, but most people have come to realize that the loft district is as safe or safer than Vestavia, Mountain Brook, Hoover, or Homewood.
Now when I tell somebody I live downtown they say “Oh that sounds fun. If I didn’t have a [kid, dog, husband, potted plant] I’d love to move downtown!” Then they always follow up with “But where do you buy groceries????”
I used to respond “Where do you buy groceries? I get in the car and drive 5 minutes, just like you.” But a couple of years ago, Mamanoes opened up less than a block from my house. I can walk there in less than a minute. It’s not a “supermarket,” but it’s a lot more than a convenience store. Antonio is the hardest working man downtown, and he carries fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy. He’s got a great beer and wine selection, and keeps some chicken, sausage and lunch meet in stock (pro tip: he usually keeps a couple of nice steaks in a hidden refrigerator, but you have to ask and sometimes beg for one). I buy about 90% of my groceries from Mamanoes, because of the convenience.
But it’s a small shop and he doesn’t have everything. The grocery business is all about turns and spoilage (or so Antonio tells me). Fish doesn’t work well in a low turn market. Luckily, a bike ride away is The Fish Market. Most people think of The Fish Market as a restaurant, forgetting that the one downtown actually has a wonderful market inside. You can take home a sushi grade tuna steak and the freshest shrimp from here to the coast. They also have an interesting selection of Greek dry goods like olive oil and some wonderful paprika.
But maybe you’re looking for some artisan cheese or a fancy chorizo or a butcher shop or a wider selection of vegetables. Ever heard of V. Richards? If you’re a foodie, this is the best place to buy groceries in Birmingham. It’s 2.4 miles from the loft district: less than a 10 minute drive.
Yeah, but V. Richard’s Asian selection sucks. Well why drive that 9 minutes when you can go up to 7th Avenue to Chai’s? I’ve never seen more food from India, Japan, China, Korea, and some places I’m missing, all piled on top of each other in one tiny wonderfully chaotic store. They’ve got any noodle you could image, vegetables of which I’ve never heard, chile’s for those seeking early deaths, and real actual Tamari. Look, they have Ghee. If you don’t know what Ghee is, it’s Butter’s less healthy cousin and it makes me happy.
But no, you wouldn’t eat Ghee or cloud your aura with any other animal product if you were starving! You don’t need those toxins polluting your system. Well good heavens, man! Get yourself over to Golden Temple Health Foods. They’re about a mile and a half away in Five Points, and have the best vegan and vegetarian groceries in town.
Ok, but you’ve just moved downtown, which is adventure enough right now, thank you very much. You don’t want to eat something made out of seaweed. When you ask “Where do you get groceries?” you don’t mean “Where do you get uppity herbs and spices?” You want frozen dinners and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I’m right there with you, my friend. Kraft unlocked the secret to life in 1937, and who am I to deny you magic in favor of over-priced hipster-fare? Well fear not, intrepid downtown grocery shopper. We’ve got plenty of “normal” grocery stores less than 10 minutes away. I usually go to Western on Highland or The Pig on Clairmont because they’re within that 3 mile radius.
But wait! You have discriminating tastes. You won’t buy your Kraft Macaroni and Cheese anywhere but Publix! The aisles are so wide and well lit and luxurious! You’re in luck; you have about a fifteen minute drive to Irondale or Homewood.
Finally, if you hate grocery bags and enjoy confusion, there’s an Aldi over in Homewood, but only accordion players shop there. There are also a couple of more Asian groceries around Homewood as well, but I prefer Chai’s.
Ok, well I’ve had a little fun being snotty, but I shop at all of these places at various times. I hope to put your mind at ease about the myth that you will starve living downtown.
EDIT: I completely forgot Freshfully! They’ve only been open a couple of months and I’ve only been there once, but it’s a fantastic place to get locally grown vegetables and meats from Alabama farmers. They are about the same distance as V. Richards, in Avondale across from the Avondale Brewery.