A prominent display of local grains, beans, and flour from Cayuga Pure Organics, with a handwritten sign, caught my eye first. Later, I saw a huge freezer full of organic beef from Genoa, NY.
When I noticed that my neighborhood grocery store in East Hill Plaza started carrying more local products, I called up the owner to ask him about it.
A few years ago, P&C was part of a big corporate chain that went bankrupt. Today, it's co-owned by Ithaca resident Myles da Cunha (a former VP of the previous company) and a business partner.
Under new ownership, the name was changed to P&C Fresh. To my eyes, as a consumer, the store and the weekly circular still looked pretty much the same. That is, until more and more local products edged their way into the store. What's going on? I wondered.
Previously, says Myles, the store carried a lot of regional products, like potatoes from Syracuse. But today, Myles says they're interested in sourcing products even closer to home. Myles said that, after they bought the business, he and his partner went down to the Ithaca Farmers Market to get to know them, and they connected with Cornell Cooperative Extension to find out what local vendors might have products that P&C Fresh customers would like.
"I live in Ithaca, so that gives us an advantage over our corporate competitors," he says. Now he stocks Finger Lakes Granola, PrOats, and local yogurt, cheese, honey, grains, beans, beer, and beef.
After I noticed the big freezer of beef, I later saw that the display had been moved to smaller freezer off on the side. Uh oh, I thought, maybe it isn't selling as well as they thought it might?
"It's just the opposite," says Myles. "I had no idea how much we would sell at first, so I bought a whole steer to see how we'd do." It sold well, and now the farm, Berry Farms, is trying to catch up with the demand.
Of course, the vast majority of products at the store are still major brand-name items. But Myles says they're flexible and open to working with local vendors, as long as they have insurance coverage. "It's simple. We give them an opportunity to sell, and if it works out, great," he says. "If not, we shake hands and part ways."
Myles has been in the grocery business for 40 years, since he was 16. He says when he wears his P&C sweatshirt around town, people ask if he works there. "People are surprised to learn that we're not a corporate store. We're a family-owned business."