Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman, C’04
I know, I know. This one seems kind of obvious. I went to Whole Foods last weekend to get some produce and I certainly remember that. Going to a supermarket is not a big event, right?
WRONG. Unless you are a recent graduate of Penn and therefore think your campus always came with a convenient well-stocked (at times) grocery store, you know what I mean when I say that the arrival of Freshgrocer was an event worthy of a blog post. When I was a freshman, Penn had no supermarket. There was Wawa, and there was a sketchy Thriftway on somewhere around 43rd Street. I never actually found out exactly where it was because I was too scared to go. One of my friends went there with her parents during orientation week so she could stock up on Easy Mac and Elios pizza and I think it took all they had to not throw her in the car with them and take her back to North Carolina.
Since Thriftway was out, Wawa was my only option when it came to groceries. I remember going there for my milk and cereal and pints of Ben and Jerry’s (freshman fifteen alert!) and then I’d supplement with the fruit food truck for some fresh produce. Granted, an 18-year-old’s diet doesn’t require much more than that, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter. One time I asked my best friend to bring me some fruit. It was during Passover, I was sick and I really couldn’t eat much. The fruit truck line was too long (so she claims), so her only other option was bringing me fruit jelly slices that her parents had given her to eat as a treat during Passover. My poor swollen tonsils just couldn’t handle it. Penn needed a supermarket, and fast.
Luckily, with about a week left to go freshman year, our prayers were answered. Freshgrocer opened at 40th and Walnut and I swear I had tears in my eyes and heard angels singing as I stared up at that glistening building. It was a miracle, like every Penn student’s collective wish coming true.
My best friend (of fruit slice fame), another friend and I were done with our finals early and decided we needed to celebrate the new supermarket. So, we went to Freshgrocer and pretty much bought everything we could on our student budgets. I mainly remember buying a giant baguette, tons of cheese and grapes. We had a picnic in the quad and were so happy! Freshgrocer led to other happy times, like visits to their candy wall during finals studying and before movies, late night food runs, and dinners of their surprisingly yummy hoagies. That supermarket meant so much to us, because we knew what it meant to be at Penn without it. And, despite some shutdowns because of rodent problems, ridiculously long checkout lines and a layout that was nearly impossible to navigate, we loved that store.
Looking back, Freshgrocer was only the beginning of a 40th street expansion that continued long after I graduated. There are now things like Bobby’s Burger Palace, Capogiro gelato, one of the prettiest CVS stores I’ve ever seen, Jimmy John’s, etc. lining Walnut Street between 39th and 40th. Izzy and Zoe’s might be gone (I really don’t know how the students are surviving without their brunches) but the expanded Greek Lady almost makes up for that. Don’t worry, Smokes is still standing strong. But, there’s no doubt campus has changed, and definitely for the better. To think, my classmates and I were there when it started, standing in a checkout line for 15 minutes waiting to buy some cheese!