Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Can't Good Food Market Just Serve The Neighborhood What It Wants?

It is hard to be optimistic and cheerful all the time when you really feel like people are out to get you. Sound paranoid?!! -- I never used to be paranoid - now, I am really convinced that I'm being harassed. Good Food Market is being attacked by "someone" who is determined to shut down our prepared food case or bankrupt us with legal fees trying to prove our innocence.

In the past month, GFM has been visited by both a zoning inspector and a health inspector because someone has complained that we are violating codes by having our prepared food case. Interestingly, both inspectors commented during their visit that the caller was "extremely knowledgable" about code, the vocabulary and the process. (I should also note here that I have yet to receive an official violation notice).

I guess I picked the wrong time to open up a grocery store because the Department of Licensing and Inspection is in the process of trying to rewrite codes to reflect modern business practices and that the C1 code is in the process of being revised. This has led me to be caught in the middle of an open discussion at L&I about what this code actually means. Why does this matter to me? Let me explain to you how this affects a small local grocery store so profoundly.

I am told that the zoning code has been the same since 1940. Under this code, a C1 building such as 12 W. Willow Grove Avenue can be home to a grocery store. This grocery store can sell meats, pharmaceuticals, confections, packaged goods, dairy, bakery goods, produce and many other things typically sold by grocery stores. Since the people who wrote this code knew that it would be around for a while and that retail evolves, they added a final paragraph that stated a grocery store in C1 can also have "accessory" use to provide the exact services that all other grocery stores have provided that it doesn't take up more that 25% of the square footage of the establishment. Now, let me ask you: do you know any other grocery store in the United States that DOESN'T have a prepared food case and deli counter?

Well, I have been trying to get to the bottom of this for months now. So finally, I got brave and called the person that really should know -- Jeanne Klinger, the head of L&I. I have to say that I was blown away that she answered the phone and she was very polite, so patient and took her time to speak with me. I was bold and I asked her why every other grocery store can have a deli case but I cannot. She didn't say that I couldn't, but she didn't say I could either. Her reply was that L&I isn't sure that THOSE grocery stores should be allowed to have the cases, either.

Now, I understand that if L&I wants to change this, this may be a good change and they may have the right to change it. But that really isn't my point here. My question still remains: why can they continue doing what every grocery store in the US does but I can't?

And I have to complain here, I don't think this is a fair spot to put an already-challenged small business in! If the L&I battle is with corporate grocery stores, why are they using me as the example? Do you think ShopRite cares if I live or die? Do you think shutting my deli case down is going to give the legal precedence to win a case against corporate lawyers?

Of course, I know my plight isn't nor should be a concern of L&I but it is obviously the reason why the complaint caller called in the first place! They knew I would be forced to fight a legal battle to prove my innocence and to do what everyone else can do. They are hoping to bankrupt me with legal fees.

I'm writing this because I want you to understand that Good Food Market is in danger of extinction and the people who want that to happen are using horribly nasty tactics to accomplish their mission.


  1. You stated that you have not received an official violation notice - have one of the L&I inspectors told that you cannot have the deli/prepared food case and must close it down? Did Ms. Klinger? It sounds like she's admitting that the code provision at issue is ambiguous but that the industry practice is and has been that grocery stores are allowed to operate deli/prepared food cases. I don't see how they can use an admittedly-ambiguous provision against only GFM, especially ex post facto (after approving your original opening, etc).

  2. You were approved to open with the existence of a deli case and prepared food. Who ever is hammering you that lives on that street needs to get a hobby.

  3. Good Food Market should be knee deep in Good Kharma. They are a generous, community centered business filled with friendly, smiling faces. You get what you give...hang in there GFM, your good energy will win out. I'll stop in over the weekend to buy anything your sellin!

  4. We need your market. Chestnut Hill is becoming a bleak place to live. What can we (your customers) do to help you?

  5. Many community residents have little sympathy for GFM. The initial zoning petition from 70 neighbors was unfairly ridiculed and ignored, even though the concerns about parking and traffic are valid. Now GFM pleads innocence and ignorance about violations from the City for the food case and the projecting sign (sounds like a typical complaint from a business trying to circumvent the rules). GFM was surprised by the zoning opposition, surprised by the L&I inspection and suprised by the Health Department visit. Obviously GFM management is poorly informed, poorly advised and has little regard for nearby residents whose concerns should be of paramount importance in this type of situation. GFM complains that somebody with deep knowledge of local zoning must have complained to L&I. First, this is another slap at the nearby residents. Second, it seems GFM does not realize that this community is full of lawyers, zoning professionals, planners, architects and politicians who are familiar with local zoning and permit practices. When you consider that the Chestnut Hill community has lengthy and complex zoning negotiations with the hospital, the college and many businesses, and even has a community "land use committee," it should be apparent that community members are highly knowledgeable. What planet does GFM live on?

  6. Good god, phillyFan. Don't you have anything better to do with your life? This is a business that's trying to serve the community. Nothing that it's doing is harming anyone. Quite the opposite. Don't like parking and traffic? Get out of your car and walk.

    To paraphrase our president ... you're a jackass.

  7. Please keep it respectful and civil here, everyone. I like discussions but not profanity.

  8. Phillyfan....People have a pretty good idea of who you are, and they don't approve. Quite the opposite. As people drive down the street, they will sometimes glance at your house and think about how you made C.H. seem like some third-world country where a few connections could flout the law.