Squashed! Eco-grocer can’t survive in green Slope • Brooklyn Paper

Squashed! Eco-grocer can’t survive in green Slope

It wasn’t high rent, but overly zealous environmentalism, that ultimately did in the Pumpkin’s Organic Market — an irony, considering that the one neighborhood where the eco-friendly grocer might have had a chance was crunchy ol’ Park Slope.

Two years ago, Pumpkin’s owner and longtime Slope resident Christina Cassano did away with landfill-clogging disposable coffee cups and insisted her customers buy their grains, spices, and other sundries in bulk rather than in wasteful small packages. But despite those Earth-hugging moves, the customers never came in droves; within the next few months, the Eighth Avenue natural foods store will close.

“Our whole goal here was just to reduce waste and to inform people about what is going on [when we pollute the environment],” Cassano said. “We were really trying to educate people, so it’s been disappointing, the response.”

This week, Cassano admitted that the Tuesday after Labor Day was her worst day in six-and-one-half years.

The closing of the market, which is at 13th Street, comes as several new markets moved into the area, including Union Market one block away on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th streets, and the 12th Street market’s recent changeover from run-of-the-mill bodega to a more unique organic produce bodega.

When Fairway opened in Red Hook in 2006, it didn’t help things either, Cassano said.

But in the face of such serious competition, Cassano went vegan and unveiled more green touches, including selling laundry detergent to people who brought their own containers. Some found a certain charm to bringing mugs for one’s morning coffee or empty bottles for cleanser, but not everyone appreciated the larger goal of saving the planet.

“I went in there to buy a cup of coffee on Sunday — you know, to show some support for the little guy — and the guy behind the counter says to me, ‘Do you have a cup?” recounted one longtime Park Slope resident. “I try to be environmental, but for want of a simple, two-cent recycled paper cup, they lost a $1.50 sale. And I might have even bought a vegan cookie, too!”

It’s somewhat odd that in a place like Park Slope, where even the very user-unfriendly Food Co-op watches its membership grow each year despite work requirements and a recent ban on bottled water and plastic bags, Pumpkin’s couldn’t quite master success.

The expensive prices didn’t lure in enough customers, even if the $3.99-per-pound apples were organic and delicious.But some shoppers liked the select-your-own quantities and fresh ingredients.

“They had a nice run, and they were [environmentally-sound] for real, with the canvas bags and the bottles to refill your laundry detergent,” said Slope resident Diane Fitzgerald, 32. “It is such a great concept, but people are just too conventional.”

Up next for Cassano is a move to Minneapolis later this fall, where she said she wants to open a new food store.

— with Michael Lipkin

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