Front Street Grocers – Thomas, WV

 

Front Street Grocers is Open!

Front Street Grocers is Open!

I warned y’all recently that I was going to start posting more having to do with the other kinds of sharing we practice as we travel. Although serving free tea is one of the main ways I like to share with people, I have taken to sharing in many of the other things I am fond of – namely small-scale, off-grid, hands-on, salvaged, low environmental impact, high social impact, systems-thinking, and community-oriented living. As I (we all?) transition away from highly-calculated exchange and back towards traditional human economy (non-calculated exchange), I find myself figuring out less-calculated forms of exchange as part of my transitional ethics. These ways of sharing were at the heart of this summer for Ally, Edna, and I as we worked on making Front Street Grocer and Kitchen a reality. I was hired on as the lead builder, and Ally as the Start-Up Manager.

Thomas, WV was a rural food desert. I mean, don’t get me wrong, West Virginians are known to be home gardeners, so real food isn’t rare for people with a plot of land. Poverty has a tendency to make people more self- and community-reliant. People share their excess, take turns taking care of kids, and lend tools. This is small community living. An older fellow would bring me home-brewed raspberry wine or tomatoes, simply because he wanted to share. There was no grocery in town. You could travel a few miles to Davis, but the main grocery store barely contains things you and I would recognize as food (mostly processed, non-organic, GMO). The small local grocery in Davis did offer some good local foods, but was far from enough, and too small for variety and the quality varied. Many people drove 30 minutes to Walmart to buy organic food.

I was asked to help build Front Street Grocers and Kitchen precisely because of my dedication to salvaged-building, eco-friendly products, healthy food, alternative-energy, small space design, and making community spaces. The space itself was a disaster when we arrived, with bats of insulation in piles, wood strewn about, random furniture, kitchen appliances scattered about. By the time we left, four months later, it was a fully functional kitchen and grocery, with seating at two copper bars and in an old alleyway we enclosed called Bake Alley. The store features mostly salvaged and locally-milled wood, eco-friendly finishes, organic and natural foods, a wood-fired oven (in Bake Alley), kombucha and wine on tap, and is completely solar-powered. I designed and/or built most of the wood projects, as well as the beverage on-tap system.

I needed to make some cash, as my reserves were running a little low, but I also knew that this was a great opportunity to practice some less-calculated exchange. The project lead, Justin, is an amazing collaborator and was totally open for such things. I did not work for an hourly rate; rather I had a range per week that in the ideal world would reflect the amount I worked, the quality of my work, and any other relevant factors. I was also paid in a place to shower, food, an address, a washing machine, and good community to be with (all valuable things!). The truth is that the ideal of checking in once/week to discuss monetary and other pay didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. We were all too busy. I also never asked for the top of my pay range even in weeks that I worked 50+ hours and did good work. This was mostly due to the fact that the project was obviously running low on funds towards the end as we were all working hard. But hey, this is what less-calculated exchange is about: knowing how all people involved are feeling and taking appropriate action. Towards the second half of the build, we finished up the kitchen, and Corey (one of the owners, and the main chef/baker) began firing up the wood-fired oven, and making delicious things in the kitchen while we got to be guinea pigs.

I guess the best way for me to explore this space with you is just to show you. So, without further ado, here are the photos (there’s a lot):

Before Construction.

Before Construction.

Before construction.

Before construction.

This oven was built about 5 years ago in this Alley, which was open to the sky up until recently. We put a roof on and insulated it.

This oven was built about 5 years ago in this Alley, which was open to the sky up until recently. We put a roof on and insulated it.

The metal-casement window from an old warehouse Justin picked up to separate the bakery from the seating area.

The metal-casement window from an old warehouse Justin picked up to separate the bakery from the seating area.

Bake Alley, mostly complete.

Bake Alley, mostly complete.

Where you can sit and watch things be baked in the wood-fired oven.

Where you can sit and watch things be baked in the wood-fired oven.

Corey rolls out some dough, while his wingman, Kenny watches.

Corey rolls out some dough, while his wingman, Kenny watches.

Baker Ally at Bake Alley.

Baker Ally at Bake Alley.

 

The beginnings of the Bake Alley bar.

The beginnings of the Bake Alley bar.

 

Corey admires the copper bar that connects Bake Alley to the store.

Corey admires the copper bar that connects Bake Alley to the store.

The completed Bake Alley Bar.

The completed Bake Alley Bar.

 

The Bake Alley door I made from an old window.

The Bake Alley door I made from an old window.

The Bake Alley door in place.

The Bake Alley door in place.

We knocked this hole in the wall to connect Bake Alley to the store. I swear the whole building shifted 1/4".

We knocked this hole in the wall to connect Bake Alley to the store. I swear the whole building shifted 1/4″.

In progess: the Bake Alley/Grocery door.

In progess: the Bake Alley/Grocery door.

 

The Bake Alley door and bar framed in.

The Bake Alley door and bar framed in.

Jaime helps cut an angle for the awning support.

Jaime helps cut an angle for the awning support.

 

Jaime cut, sanded and stained all of these locally milled Oak boards for the awning.

Jaime cut, sanded and stained all of these locally milled Oak boards for the awning.

Jaime and Morgan secure the front Awning support.

Jaime and Morgan secure the front Awning support.

 

Here I am screwing in the awning boards while Justin admires from his apartment window.

Here I am screwing in the awning boards while Justin admires from his apartment window.

The awning complete.

The awning complete.

The Awning done.

The awning done.

I designed the awning framework, using 1-1/2" steel tubing and a series of brackets.

I designed the awning framework, using 1-1/2″ steel tubing and a series of brackets.

A salvaged piece from Construction Junction in Pittsburg made up the main underpart of the bar.

A salvaged piece from Construction Junction in Pittsburg made up the main underpart of the bar.

Jaime Helps trim the bar top down.

Jaime helps trim the bar top down.

The finished bars.

The finished bars.

Ally shows of an FSG bag.

Ally shows of an FSG bag.

Construction zone! Plastic hung so that the kitchen could start to operate.

Construction zone! Plastic hung so that the kitchen could start to operate.

The crew at the bar.

The crew at the bar.

Starting the bulk section build.

Starting the bulk section build.

All of the plywood is certified from sustainable forests, and the banding is locally milled walnut.

All of the plywood is certified from sustainable forests, and the banding is locally milled walnut.

 

This old Chimney became a lovely challenge to work around. It (and the whole building) is extremely out of plumb.

This old Chimney became a lovely challenge to work around. It (and the whole building) is extremely out of plumb.

I had to figure out how to make this end section of the bulk plumb, while basing it of of somethings slanted.

I had to figure out how to make this end section of the bulk plumb, while basing it of of somethings slanted.

Getting it laid out.

Getting it laid out.

 

It's starting to look sharp!

It’s starting to look sharp!

Getting the bulk section laid out.

Getting the bulk section laid out.

Making sure the herb drawers and gravity bins fit.

Making sure the herb drawers and gravity bins fit.

 

Got the counter in (locally milled Poplar, with Walnut edging)

Got the counter in (locally milled Poplar, with Walnut edging)

All the shelves in place.

All the shelves in place.

 

Drilling holes for T-Nuts for the "buttons" that hold the gravity bins in place. I had to drill every inch so that they can be adjusted for different size bulk containers.

Drilling holes for T-Nuts for the “buttons” that hold the gravity bins in place. I had to drill every inch so that they can be adjusted for different size bulk containers.

The "buttons" in place to hold the gravity bins.

The “buttons” in place to hold the gravity bins.

Getting the LED lighting worked out, as well as where each product will go.

Getting the LED lighting worked out, as well as where each product will go.

 

Ally fills a gravity bin.

Ally fills a gravity bin.

Finished and stocked!

Finished and stocked!

All done!

All done!

 

The design sketch for the bulk section (photo:@doaklander)

The design sketch for the bulk section (photo:@doaklander)

Bringing in each of the 4 fridges/freezers was no small task. At 600-900 lbs each, we needed 8 people, and had to take apart the front door frame.

Bringing in each of the 4 fridges/freezers was no small task. At 600-900 lbs each, we needed 8 people, and had to take apart the front door frame.

Edna lived out front for much of the Summer/Fall.

Edna lived out front for much of the Summer/Fall.

The kitchen!

The kitchen!

A roll around butcher block table I made.

A roll around butcher block table I made.

 

We found this 5 gallon wide-mouth glass jar in the 3rd floor of junk. It was perfect for making a large kombucha brew. This was the precursor to what is now two 15 gallon batches brewing to supply the kombucha on tap.

We found this 5 gallon wide-mouth glass jar in the 3rd floor of junk. It was perfect for making a large kombucha brew. This was the precursor to what is now two 15 gallon batches brewing to supply the kombucha on tap.

Ally and I made some fizzy kombucha!

Ally and I made some fizzy kombucha!

Trevor puts his earthen plastering skills to work on the oven and walls.

Trevor puts his earthen plastering skills to work on the oven and walls.

The Bakery near completion.

The Bakery near completion.

 

The oven door I build using scrap oak/chestnut, some salvaged high temp insulation from an old stove, a junky baking sheet, and some mica.

The oven door I build using scrap oak/chestnut, some salvaged high temp insulation from an old stove, a junky baking sheet, and some mica.

The mica eye holes for the door allow you to see inside the oven without opening the door. The mica is from an old electronic part from a vintage TV I found on the 3rd floor.

The mica eye holes for the door allow you to see inside the oven without opening the door. The mica is from an old electronic part from a vintage TV I found on the 3rd floor.

Building out the pass through from the kitchen and a prep bar.

Building out the pass through from the kitchen and a prep bar.

Learning how to solder copper corners.

Learning how to solder copper corners.

Finished corner.

Finished corner.

 

Ally and Corey peeking from the kitchen.

Ally and Corey peeking from the kitchen. Copper pass-through and prep counter done!

Jaime shows off the checkout station (POSey) he's building. It's mobile, and has awesome flip up shelves for bags and groceries (not pictured).

Jaime shows off the checkout station (POSey) he’s building. It’s mobile, and has awesome flip up shelves for bags and groceries (not pictured).

 

Trevor, the checkout king.

Trevor, the checkout king.

The legs for a round table.

The legs for a round table.

Produce and products are what the central tables are mainly for, but they can be removed for community meals.

Produce and products are what the central tables are mainly for, but they can be removed for community meals.

Corey brings the open sign out for the first time.

Corey brings the open sign out for the first time.

Finally open!

Finally open!

 

The store is finally stocked!

The store is finally stocked!

Produce!

Produce!

 

More produce!

More produce!

Some signs that Jaime built and I painted.

Some signs that Jaime built and I painted.

 

Some signs that Jaime built and I painted.

Some signs that Jaime built and I painted.

The drink menu.

The drink menu.

 

The taps I built from old junk I found laying around the building.

The taps I built from old junk I found laying around the building.

Now that I have solidified my personal position that my work has to represent my moral framework, I feel good to know that I am invited to participate in such projects. I have so much respect and thanks for all the folks who I worked alongside as co-workers and friends. They are my community.

Big thanks to Justin, who led but, as a wonderful collaborator, gave tremendous voice and creativity to everyone involved; to Corey for allowing someone like me to come in and do creative work, much of which he could do himself; to Trevor for being a steady rock, even through the madness; to Jaime, who’s help, dedication, diligence, skills, and creativity were incredible and indispensible; to Eva (and Ruben) for taking care of family and hearth, as well as for much organizational/ordering work; to Mark, for taking orders from a young guy like me and building things; to Ally, who kept us organized and on task (and me sane); and to all the other creative hands who helped along the way (too many to name!).

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2 Responses to Front Street Grocers – Thomas, WV

  1. Pingback: Autumn Update – Blue Ridge Parkway, VA | Free Tea Party

  2. Christian says:

    Wow this is awesome man. That’s so cool that you guys built something that the community really needed and that you got to work on such a project. I love reading about this, reminds me of what whole foods used to be like before it became a corporation about making a profit…It was about community.

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