Shopping Like an Expert at General Food Store

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.

Gene Gong
Gene Gong

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!

Where you will most likely find Gene or Ray.
Where you will most likely find Gene or Ray.

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.

Mmmmm that fresh bread smells heavenly!

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!

Not here.


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!


WP Photo Challenge: Yellow

Yellow seems to creep into every picture even when I don’t focus on it.  I looked for a folder that might show a lot of yellow where one might not expect it.  I first opened “Market Research.”  In this photo trip, I explored what sold books.  Compare the picture with more yellow.  What do you think?

Yellow 1RT


with less
with less

I actually could not find a bookcase with NO yellow.  Yellow makes the other colors pop.  Which book in the next bookcase draws your attention?  Which ones would you choose to read looking at the cover?  What about if you just looked at the spine?

Yellow 3

Yellow needs another color to offset it, but a bit of yellow goes a long way, wouldn’t you say?  The book I remember reading from this entire post – 9 months later is The Dark.

For more choices click the WP icon


San Francisco with Mary

I love to eat.   I am not a foody, but Mary is.

I love nice clothes.  I am not a shopper, but Mary is.

I love to travel.  I don’t know places well.

But Mary knows all these things.

SF with Mary100

It’s relaxing to travel with friends like Mary because they hold in their hands all the knowledge they need as they negotiate the world – their cell phone accessed by yelp.  They know facts about everything.  They check me in to all the places we go.  Life is never boring when I am with my friends.

SF with Mary025 Within 7 minutes of arriving at the Double Tree in Berkeley, we were back in the hotel parking lot to catch the shuttle that took us to the North Berkeley BART station.  Within one minute of descending the elevator, the train arrived, and we were whisked under the Bay to San Francisco.  Manny wasn’t wearing his concrete shoes, so we made it safely to the other side.

SF with Mary001a

The perfect weather beckoned me to dwaddle, so I left my camera in my purse.  Everything I saw I wanted to photograph, but I resisted temptation, and left my camera asleep in my purse along with Manny.  I know – I’d make a terrible Teddy Bear Rights Advocate!

SF with Mary002

It was 3:00 p.m., and we hadn’t eaten lunch.  We hustled to the Ferry Station where food choices surrounded us.  It was impossible not to find a good place to eat.

SF with Mary005

Unfortunately I had eaten a spinach artichoke quiche at Panera’s AND a bagel for breakfast at about 9:30 a.m.l!  Yikes – don’t do that.  NO MATTER HOW GREAT IT IS!  It will make your stomach feel like exploding ALL DAY!  Resist temptation.  Then, for heaven’s sake, don’t stop at the best bakery in the Central Valley of California.  And if you do stop there, don’t eat a frosted sugar cookie!  Not even one bite!  Even if it’s hours later, whatever you do, don’t eat a warm egg salad sandwich and brussel sprout, sweet potato chicken soup on top of that!  You know there’s more.  Don’t try to sample EVERY piece of chocolate in the Ferry Terminal!  And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to eat a huge Chinese dinner on top of all that!  But if you do, be sure to have the flowering tea.  It’s very calming.

SF with Mary054a

After we got through making ourselves sick at the Ferry we walked two blocks to catch the N Judah bus which the young lady at the butter pastery shop told us would take us to Union Square.  What she didn’t tell us was that the N Juda buss ran only late at night.  So after letting one or two busses pass us by, we got on the next bus that came along, and it took us where we wanted to go.  The goal was to reach a store called Uniqulo.  This is sort of the Japanese IKEA for clothes. You will enjoy how colorful it is.

SF with Mary058 SF with Mary059 SF with Mary060 SF with Mary061 SF with Mary068 SF with Mary069 SF with Mary071 SF with Mary073 SF with Mary076 SF with Mary065

Mary found plenty to buy.  I bought another coat, so I could layer all three as we walked all night in San Francisco.  I was almost warm enough as we toured the park including the ice rink, and walked across the street to Macy’s .

We had to go to Mary’s favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner.  I had one potsticker, a few spoonfuls of wonton soup with sizzling rice in a coconut broth, and one tiny orange chicken nugget, and lovely flowering tea.  It was probably really delicious.

After dinner we walked towards the bay to the BART station.  We stopped at the Embarcadero Cinema, but decided that the only show we were in time to see, Hitchcock, was not worth possibly missing the BART, and our shuttle back to the hotel which ended at 10:30.  So we shuffled back down the street to the station, and one and a half minutes after we arrived, the train pulled into the station, we boarded and sloshed back across the bay to Berkeley.

So much fun.  So much food.  So much shopping, So much cold.  So much walking.  So many pictures.  You know I like to so….  :)

So what did you do this week-end?

Pike Place Market

Traveling to conferences often allows attendees the opportunity to explore new places.  National Council for the Social Studies moves their conference each year to a different part of the country allowing social studies teachers to learn geography as well as history, civics, economics and all the social studies.  In Seattle I ate in some top Diners and Dives restaurants, rode to the top of the Space Needle, got lost in downtown several times, and best of all, went to the Pike Place Market.

Outside the market you needed an umbrella, which I had left at the top of the Space Needle the night before, but inside, the weather was perfect.  I hadn’t carried my Canon in the rain, so these pictures all came from my iPhone.

Since we had just eaten lunch, the flowers attracted us at first.  Bouquets ranged from $5 – $15.  This one was $10, I think.  We wondered how they sustained themselves, but would have bought at least one bouquet if we weren’t going on the plane hours later.

Honey Crisp apple grown in Washington

Free samples abounded, and these Honey Crisp apples were sweet and crunchy, just the way I like apples.  All the varieties of apples came from Washington, but other fruits and vegetables came from all over.  One item we asked about came from Delano, just south of us in Kern County, California.


Although fruits and vegetables provided the most color, while fish throwing attracted the biggest followers.  I tried to capture the fish in motion, but clicking at exactly the right time challenged me.

We saw lots of fish eyes, oozy clams, live oysters, and tasted smoked salmon jerky at $39 + a pound.

Razor clams oozing out of their shells brushed with sand.
Mary advocates for purchasing sustainable fish, and organic vegetables.

After the fish festival, Mary wanted to experience the shoe museum which meant a pay a quarter, peek through a lit window for about a minute, and have your picture taken outside the painted window display.

Robert Wadlow’s size 37AA shoe
Come one. Come all. Step right up, and put your quarters in. These shoes will astound you.

You can buy anything you might need at this outdoor market, and people come from around the world to do so.  How does this compare to markets in your city or town?  Did you like it?



People Can Be Blunt

When I was young, I was taught that with age comes respect.

That meant as a kid I called people who were older than 25 Mr. and Mrs.   It also meant that I was taught to be less than honest.  I mean really I couldn’t  imagine telling my grandma she had a booger showing in her nose.  I just looked away because it was so gross hoping that she would have to go to the bathroom or something.

So fast forward till now I’m the grandma.  I am officially the oldest person in our office.  (and I’m young!)  Same respect???  Same lies???  Here’s my story.

I love Dress Barn.  The 20s something clerk helped me pick out all the right dresses and fashion accessories so that I wouldn’t look like the oldest one in the office.   – Just get the respect.  You see where this is going?

I wore my first new outfit to work the next day –  brown pants, shirt and a beautiful wool jacket with a fluffy collar.  All the women oohed and ahhed when I walked to my office.  I spun around proudly modeling as I walked to my office.  Their admiration was palpable.  Feeling buoyed by their enthusiastic response to my new wardrobe choice, I stopped at the doorway of my fellow consultant, and said, “What do you think, Jon?  Do you like my new outfit?”

He was silent longer than I thought was necessary for a simple, “Wow I love it!  You look great,” which honestly was what I was expecting.  Finally he gave his opinion, “Well……,”more pausing.  I lost my sexy, hand on hip, other hand flipping my hair stance, and should have walked away at that point.  “It’s brown,” he finally finished lamely.

Yes, that was lame, but the rest of the office heard my fashion critic, and I’m sure our laughter could be heard in the basement.

The next day I walked in with, what I thought was my best outfit.  My green sweater dress was accented by a full length gray knitted vest with, yes a fluffy collar that went down both sides of the front the full length of the sweater.  The fluff even had dangly things woven in that subtly caught the light.  I felt like a glamour queen.  Again, the women complimented me, and again I twirled, avoiding Jon’s office this time.

Later in the day another consultant approached my door, and asked me to come to his office.  We have unspoken rules of etiquette in our office.  When another consultant comes to you and wants to talk, even if you are presenting to 600 people in 15 minutes, you stop what you are doing, and invite them to sit down and tell you what’s on his or her mind.  I followed him to his office.

“Close the door, and sit down,” he instructed seriously, and before I could even worry about what was going wrong in the office – and worrying is my default mode – he added, “Has anyone talked to you about your colors?”

Glenn is always up to something, so, of course I lied, “NO!”

“Well, someone should!”   I couldn’t believe I was hearing this!  This went against every grain of respect my parents had drilled into my well-ordered life.  Glenn is at least 3 years younger than I am – how could he???

But he continued pointing at a picture on his bookcase, “Do you see that picture of my wife?  That is my favorite picture of her, and do you know why?”  Actually his wife is my good friend – everybody’s good friend, and she is adorable, why wouldn’t that be his favorite picture?  She looked like she was about 20.

He was getting passionate.  “I’ll tell you why!  It’s her colors.  She hates that picture, but I love it.  Do you see what she is wearing?  Pink.  Do you see how great that makes her face look?  My wife needs color.  That color makes her look great!”  By this time I’m sure everyone on Doe Avenue could hear his voice.  “YOU NEED TO LOSE THE GRAY!  I guess the green is OK,” he hung his head a little sheepishly, “but YOU NEED TO LOSE THE GRAY!” he jutted his chin back up, and repeated his advice a second time for emphasis.

By this time I was reeling.  I staggered out of his office doubled over, and laughed as hard as I could along with everyone else within a 10 mile hearing radius.

There really isn’t a moral to this story.  I sometimes tell it to loosen up an audience before I present.  I try to wear gray every day during the winter – at least a bit of it.  I get lots of compliments when I wear blue or turquoise – pink.  I still shop at Dress Barn.  But people can be blunt – even when you’re old enough for people to lie to you.