While Whole Foods Market (often called Whole Paycheck) is the darling of most urbanists across North America (me included) I might have just found a better option.
Back in 2013, my Mom spoke of a new grocery store opening up in Hamilton’s downtown Jackson Square shopping centre. She checked it out for me, but wasn’t impressed when the customer service people didn’t speak English. She was so disgusted she didn’t even remember the name of the store. Since then I have never heard anything about an innovative new flagship grocery store in Hamilton.
Hamilton has had a downtown Farmers’ Market since 1837 and is where I like to go whenever I am in town. However, on my recent visit, my Mom suggested I also check it the now not so new Jackson Square grocery store, which is on the same mega block as the Famers’ Market, Central Library and First Ontario Arena.
I was immediately blown away by its size and vibe - even on a Monday morning there was a great mix of people shopping in the huge (55,000 square feet) store.
I had to look to find the name of the store as the entrance is from the middle of a ‘70s indoor mall, so there is no big box signage. Eventually, I figured out it was Nations Fresh Foods. I had never heard of it. Where have I been? Later I checked with some other urban retail colleagues and they hadn’t heard of it either.
Turns out the parent company is Brampton based Ocean Fresh Foods Market and Nations is their upscale grocery store concept with two stores, with a third opening in Toronto later in 2016. The motto for their stores is “Where East meets West” which means they offer food and produce as well as take-home cooked meals from around the world. While the stores have an European design the aisles are filled with products from around the world to serve southern Ontario market one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world.
Both Quality AND Affordability!
At the entrance was a lovely coffee station with pastries and gelato – I immediately thought my love of evening walks for gelato in Florence.
The more I wandered, the more impressed I became with the selection. I loved the wall of teas, the seafood market full of live fish, the huge in store bakery, large sushi station and very fresh-looking fruits and vegetables.
I am told Nations carries lots of exotic foods like mungosteen, rambutan and dragonfruit; this is definitely not your average grocery store.
And the prices were good - three chocolate croissants for $1.99, artisan breads for $2.69. Reviews of the store on the Internet were overwhelmingly positive - many saying they preferred it to Whole Foods. Several people commented that Nations offers good quality at affordable prices; this almost never happens for other grocery stores.
While Nations’ by-line is “Where East Meets West,” I think I would use “Where old world meets new world.”
While I doubt Nations is looking at expanding to Western Canada anytime soon, a Nations’ grocery store would be a welcome addition in Calgary. Perhaps as part a new development planned on the old Calgary Co-op site in the Beltline. It would be perfect for the proposed mega development in Chinatown. Eau Claire Market, University District or Currie would also be ideal locations.
I can’t help but think if Nations’ flagship store was in downtown Vancouver or Toronto, the urban planning world would be all over it as “god’s gift to urban villages,” but because it is in downtown Hamilton, it has been effectively ignored.
Oh, and after our visit, even my Mom was impressed enough to say maybe she would give Nations a second chance.