By Elizabeth Shepherd
For islanders who have seen some of the shelves empty out in the island’s two main grocery stores in the past week and are worried about bumping into crowds in the check-out line, it’s worth remembering that Vashon still has other options for buying groceries in the time of coronavirus: Minglement, in Center, and Harbor Mercantile, in Burton.
Minglement and Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie
On an island that has experienced sea-change in its public life in the last two weeks, one thing remained the same last week, before Jay Inslee’s new “stay home” order — a few folks were still sitting and sipping coffee on the front porch of the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, albeit in much smaller numbers while respecting the strict new rules of social distancing.
On a sunny day last week, two Tacoma cyclists, who were spending the day pedaling over the hills and valleys of Vashon, sat on a bench in one part of the porch, while well-known island singer/songwriter Ike Harmon occupied another perch, a sensible 10 feet away. He’d been in the same spot, the day before.
Referring to the historic building where he sat, he said, “I consider this a sacred space. This is what I think the island is all about. It’s about the dignity of place.”
The Roasterie, located on Vashon Highway just kitty-cornered from Vashon Center for the Arts, is still open, but the time-honored tradition of self-service coffee on the porch is suspended for now.
For a hot cup of joe, islanders now need to go to a counter inside where drip coffee is being served by employees — or visit the still-open espresso stand in the back of the Roasterie. Customers can also still buy a broad selection of island-roasted coffee beans and tea at the store as well, to take back home to brew.
And yet another draw in the more than 100-year-old building is up a short flight of stairs from the now-empty indoor seating area of the Roasterie. It’s Minglement, a neighborhood grocery store that has operated for more than 40 years, where islanders can still shop for a broad array of all-organic and non-GMO products including canned goods, meats, fresh island produce, eggs, cheese, butter, milk, nuts, oils, honey, vinegars, spices, healthy snacks and beverages, including kombucha.
The store also sells a large array of vitamins, homeopathic products, body care products and a full line of various myco-medicinal fungi products created by famed American mycologist Paul Staments.
What’s more, Minglement also offers a daily menu of fresh, all-organic and non-GMO prepared food to go, including salads made with Matsuda Farm lettuce, bison burritos and sandwiches.
According to the Roasterie and Minglement’s owner, Eva (who uses a single name), her grocery store has had a few “runs” in the past week, as shoppers stock their pantries and freezers with food in a new uncertain, and suddenly ethically-fraught era of grocery shopping.
But Eva also praised her clientele for being kind and community-minded in the age of coronavirus.
“The thing I’m most inspired by is that the customers of Minglement and the Roasterie are nervous, but I see them every day, saying, ‘I’ll leave that for another,’” Eva said. “What we see in here is that there is consideration for others, and that leaves us with a lot of hope.”
Eva, who has owned the grocery store for 20 years, said she employs 25 people, and is optimistic about her business’ survival, as the company has diverse income streams. While the mandated closure of The Roasterie’s popular indoor cafe area has adversely affected income, the store’s online sales and wholesale orders have increased in the past weeks, she said.
The store also has a popular bulk-buying program — it’s been in place for 30 years now — and several other services that are sure to have appeal in the coming weeks.
“There have always been folks who have needed to ask us to deliver to them and we’ve always been able to do so,” said Eva, who added that island elders have long been their main clientele for delivery. Currently, the store also offers curbside service, which Eva said her customers have been taking advantage of.
Prepared food (minimum $20 order) can also be delivered, with phone orders (206-463-9800) open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
And for now, Eva is making sure those who come to the store know that the indoor coffee shop — long a bustling hub of coffee-fueled conversation —will reopen as soon as it is safe.
Eva said she planned to make signs to put on the back of the chairs in the shop, to read “these chairs are eagerly awaiting your return.”
Currently, the store’s hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, until further notice. Visit the store’s website at minglement.com or tvicr.com for more information.
In Burton last week, on a sunny afternoon, it almost seemed like nothing had changed at Harbor Mercantile, a longtime neighborhood grocery and general store owned by Craig Pratt and Dawn Kerber, a married couple.
Two teens hopped off their bicycles outside the store, and ambled inside, tracing the steps of countless other island youth who have wandered into the store, over the past decades, to buy themselves a cold drink or special sugary treat.
Inside, the store was quiet, boasting only two or three other customers browsing the store’s produce section and well-stocked shelves and refrigerator cases filled with products including canned and jarred goods, dairy products, frozen foods and a large wine section.
Still, the family-owned and run store, which has only three employees, has seen a bump in sales, said Pratt, who credited his son, Dash Pratt, his nephew Alex Kerber and stock-person Eli Buffington with keeping operations smooth at the store.
“There has definitely been an uptick,” he said, adding that even with increased shopping, his customers have been careful not to take more cleaning products and paper goods than they need.
“Our customers have been very kind and thoughtful — I’ve never been completely out of toilet paper — they have been very considerate,” Pratt said.
Pratt, who bought the store from longtime owner Sandy Mattara last year, said he has made some changes in the store since he took it over.
He credits his wife, Dawn Kerber, for expanding the store’s wine section to include a wide range of selections not found anywhere else on the island. He also said he has worked to stock the store with healthier food products, including more vegan and vegetarian options, including alternative milks, more pasta options and Amy’s and Healthy Choice frozen meals.
But some things remain the same at the store, including a spinning display of “penny” candies — contained in a large metal nail dispenser that was repurposed by a former owner. Pratt will never get rid of it, he said — it is part of the store’s history.
The store also has two aisles filled with household and hardware supplies.
In running the store, Pratt has said he’s tried to strike a balance of keeping his store’s inventory stocked with both new items and the ones long-time customers have always found at the store.
He also shared plans he and his wife have been making for the later in the year, which he hopes to launch after the time of coronavirus is over.
He said that once a week, from May to September, he’d like to invite food trucks to Burton, near his store, to provide a place for islanders to gather, eat, and listen to music.
“We don’t have a destination for a restaurant in Burton,” he said. “I’d like to have a little festival.”
Harbor Mercantile, located at 24002 Vashon Hwy S.W., is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The store’s phone number is 206-463-2500.
Shopping in small stores is part of Vashon history
Minglement and Harbor Mercantile, according to island historian Bruce Haulman, are the only two remaining examples of more than a dozen neighborhood grocery stores that used to dot the neighborhoods of Vashon, stretching from the north end ferry Dock.
“These were the 7-Eleven stores of their time, providing a wide range of goods from groceries, to hardware, to candy for kids,” Haulman said.
Many of the buildings — including ones in Dockton, Colvos, Portage and at the foot of the North End ferry dock — still stand, he said.