Chicago was for me a city of amusements, of friends and lovers, of relentless youthful human energy and tantalizing freedom. And yet despite all the thrills, all the warmth and sympathy, all the cultural exploration and immersion, there was one entity with which I felt a superlative devotional bond, a constant and enduring love that outshone all the rest. That entity was Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetable Market.
Stanley’s was a refuge from the vicissitudes of trends, the gentrifying, price inflating forces of hipness and modernity. Stanley’s was a temple of the fair deal. A cathedral of unpretentious excellence. It was simply a place one could go to buy flavorful, inexpensive produce by the bagful.
And it still is. I speak in the past tense because I have moved away. I have been trying to figure out my food situation in a new town, and I have felt the loss of Stanley’s acutely, almost like a missing limb. Today I drove to the town’s big local market, a much smaller, less fresh market, and searched vainly for two produce markets that turned out to not exist. None offered any hint of the bounty I had enjoyed in my past life. I returned home feeling defeated and sad. I even had thoughts of visiting the odious and gargantuan Walmart that sits like a planed-off goiter on the side of route 1.
I reminisced about 10-cent avocados that were among the best I’ve had, about the time I bought a case – 8 fucking lbs. – of strawberries for $1.00. About the glorious Ciabatta and multigrain breads, deli meats and cheeses, the fresh made Pico de Gallo and Guacamole, the giant pickles bobbing in their bucket of brine, the scrumptious dried figs that became my favorite dessert, the potato and sweet potato chips made in store and dusted with delightful seasonings. There was no greater feeling than leaving the store with two or three bursting bags of sweet fruits and vegetables and a receipt totaling about $25.00. Sometimes I felt like I had robbed the place.
I don’t actually remember the first time I went to Stanley’s, but I remember how it changed my food hopping and eating habits forever, partially freeing me from the yoke of Jewel-Osco, the mental orthodoxy of meat, and big grocery in general. Stanley’s also gave me a way to snack heavily out of boredom at work without becoming a big fat fuck. For that I am eternally grateful.
Perhaps I had a few less than perfect experiences at Stanley’s. During my panic days, fighting the crowds there after work made me feel like someone was standing on my chest. Once, during a busy period, a car bumped me as I walked across the parking lot toward the store. That parking lot often became a warzone during rush periods. Some of the cheapest deals were really too good to be true. This was an especially relevant hazard with the closed, inscrutable fruits like Cantaloupes, Honeydew Melons and Pineapples. However these drawbacks were nothing compared to the sheer benefit I reaped from my years of shopping at old Stanzo’s. It was a significant part of what kept me in Wicker Park. How could any place ever compare to Stanley’s? Would I even want to find it?
Well, now I might have to try. There is a well-reviewed fruit and vegetable place in the next town. It’s clear that I’ll have to look into it. It’s either that or see how the produce is at Walmart. Stanley’s can never be replaced in my heart, mind, or stomach. Indeed, even if I find a great fruit and vegetable market, every time I am shocked by the sweetness of a 10-cent plum, or string together so many sweet deals that I can push back my next trip to the supermarket, I’ll think of Stanley’s. I’ll think of Stanley’s