Thursday’s 80-degree temperature in Woodlake could not have been more beautiful. My mood matched the weather as I drove downtown to General Food Store to meet with Gene Gong, one of the two directors.
Mr. Gene Gong works twelve-hour days, so it’s been hard to schedule a time to interview him. On this perfect day in Woodlake, he was waiting and ready to answer my questions about General Food Store and the grocery business.
What do you want us to know about General Food Store?
“We are a local store,” Gene Gong replied immediately
Next to Woodlake Hardware, General Food Store has been active in Woodlake in the same location longer than any other store. Congratulations to Woodlake Chamber members, directors Gene and Ray Gong, on celebrating the 55th year anniversary of their family-owned and operated General Food Store!
We met in their front office, which is actually open to the public at the front of the store. I work best in private quarters away from distractions. Not these two! They are right out front, nodding to merchants as they come and go, speaking to customers, answering questions – always accessible.
As a small town, Woodlake is fortunate to have two well-stocked grocery stores. Gene likened their store to a corner mom and pop operation. Yes, they know most of their customers, but I remember most corner markets as being dim, dusty, and cramped. General Food Store is none of these.
Shoppers today have lots of options when it comes to shopping, especially for groceries. It seems that everyone is in the grocery business – national grocery chain stores, gas stations, outdoor fruit stands, discount stores, trendy, and bulk stores. There might be an occasional corner market in a large city like the one my first husband’s parents owned in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA.
What does the small-town main street market sell most?
General Food sells time. And time is money! How many people in Woodlake have too much of either of those commodities? I don’t. But I act like I do.
It takes me 20-25 minutes at the most to drive into Woodlake and pick up grocery items and get back home. It takes me 25 minutes to drive to the nearest Save Mart in Visalia, and five minutes to find a parking place and walk into the store. I love Costco, but it takes about 30 minutes to drive there and 25 minutes to find a parking place and a vacant grocery cart, not to mention going through a line to get into and out of the store. Then I have to shop and get back home – 90 minutes at least!
Additional Amenities of Shopping at General Food Store
Wal-Mart sells cheap merchandise but has long lines, a dirty store, filthy parking lot, and crowded rows. Who knows, we might end up being featured on the People of Wal-Mart website, or be standing next to someone who is. Yikes!
Look how spotless everything is at General Food Store in Woodlake. Do you see the reflection of the meat department in the floor? There is plenty of room to push a full-sized cart around without having to pick it up and squeeze past another customer. Yet, there was a steady stream of customers while I was in the store.
It is so simple to shop here. Park right next to the door. Customers walk in, get a friendly greeting, pick up their cart and find things they need. There is no long check-out line. General Food Store customers are back home after shopping and visiting with neighbors in less time than it would take them to drive to Visalia and park their car.
So what if I save $2.00 on a bag of chips at the $300 store?
Items are easy to find.
I’m not a huge drinker, but I enjoy a glass of sweet wine with my husband once in a while. My favorite brand is Barefoot. It’s inexpensive and tastes delicious to me. When I pick up a bottle in Visalia, I have to walk up and down two aisles to find my brand. There it is in the red wines, and again in the white and pink wine areas.
Time elapsed? Five minutes!
All my favorites are together, and they are on special for the same price as I can get them in Visalia. How much time did I just save? About 60 minutes, on one item.
I love to shop for fresh vegetables. There are only two of us at home. Neither of us eats huge amounts of anything. You would not think that to look at my shopping habits.
In Visalia, I go to Costco, walk into that freezing cold room, practically run my cart around the perimeter, and grab a big plastic container of lettuce, one bag of broccoli and one of carrots. The lettuce sits in my refrigerator until half or more of it rots. Ewwwww!
When three-quarters of the bag of broccoli turns yellow, I throw it out. The peeled baby carrots get slimy before we can eat them all. I wash them off, but feel guilty because I don’t want to serve slimy carrots, so I throw them out. Then if I’m fixing dinner for company, I don’t have any carrots to serve. I either have to grab a can of something or send Vince to Woodlake to pick up some fresh vegetables at the last minute.
Vince hates the way I shop. I think I am saving so much money. What do you think?
Mr. Gong said that he stocks things people in Woodlake buy. Customers might not find the newest craze here. Yet, he keeps up on the newest nutrition and food buying trends.
“About six years ago people started using plain yogurt to make fruit smoothies. Woodlake people did not pick up on it right away.”
“Do you stock plain yogurt now? I started eating it about six years ago because a doctor recommended it to help me with weight loss.”
“Yes, now customers are buying enough of it to pay stocking it. But kale is in now, and you might not find that here.”
I bought a huge bag of cut kale from Save Mart in my refrigerator. After talking to Mr. Gong, guilt overwhelmed me and I ate a bowl of kale for breakfast this morning. I fixed it three days ago and stuck the leftovers in the refrigerator because I don’t like to be wasteful. I still have a half bag of uncooked kale in the refrigerator. It is about 2 weeks old. I think I need to rethink my shopping habits.
My husband drinks Lactaid. We go through a lot of it, most of the time. Then we don’t. I won’t tell you what happens to some of our milk. More often we just run out – just before Vince has breakfast at 4:30 am. We did not want to run into Visalia to get a half-gallon of Lactaid. After what Mr. Gong said about trends, I did not think they would have Lactaid, but I was WRONG!
I admit that we eat like gringos. I fix burritos and other Mexican dishes, but I do it the gringa way. However, 80 percent of our town is Hispanic. True Mexicans cook with spices that I have never heard of. My Mexican friends would be ashamed to eat my monster quesadillas. Vince goes to Super Taco if he wants authentic Mexican food. But the Gongs stock for their customers. I could buy eucalyptus leaves if I wanted them. Does anyone have a recipe for them?
Speaking of tacos, unless you are vegetarian, meat is the most expensive item on the grocery list. I eat chicken, chicken and, oh yes, chicken with an occasional filet of salmon and hamburger thrown in. I fix Italian meatballs for my Italian husband, and I do it the Italian way. I forgot to check out the sausage situation at General Food Store. There aren’t many Italians in Woodlake.
There are lots of fresh meat choices. Packages do not come in $30.00 sizes, which reminds me, I need to put my hamburger I bought at Costco in the freezer today or I’ll have to throw it out.
Apparently many customers like baby-back ribs. My husband does.
I believe in supporting Woodlake Chamber members. Mr. Gong has not been a member for several years and he renewed his membership during our visit. He is the first Woodlake grocery store to do so. You all know what this means, don’t you?
My shopping habits are going to change!