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

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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

Updated 5:08 pm, July 9, 2018: Story was altered to remove a comment from someone whose quotation was taken out of context.
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Reasonable discourse

daniel says:
With the food coop so close by, how could this place be relevant in a quest to “redefine” grocery shopping?
Sept. 10, 2008, 10:03 am
david from greenwood heights says:
i would have shopped there more frequently, but the prices were outrageous. kinda took the fun out of going there. also, it was a bit twee....can't say that i'm happy it's gone, but i'm not gonna shed a (vegan) tear now that they're gone.
Sept. 10, 2008, 10:05 am
Leo from Cobble Hill says:
I always find it sad when a business shuts down, however a new gem will open in its place. Small business is the driver of America. I applaud this store for putting its money where its mouth is and being true to its vision. It is a refreshing change of pace from the many hypocrite environmentalists that I often hear.
Sept. 10, 2008, 1:01 pm
zeb from Park Slope says:
1. The food coop is ridiculous and has no standards or principles.

2. "Prices were outrageous" - That's exactly what this article is about, David: People just want what's cheap and convenient, not caring where their money goes and what it supports (not making the connection that if you spend your money in the community -ie: small business-than those small businesses don't have to be so, as you put it, "outrageous"). Since "outrageous" pricing clearly wasn't enough to keep the doors open, what do you think that is a reflection of? Do you think that had anything to do with the cost of running a small business and the products they are chosing to sell? Small business, thanks to our larger, corporate economy, costs an "outrageous" amount of money to maintain

3. "A new gem" - Have you been on 7th ave recently? Small business is dying

David and Daniel: I hope you enjoy the new bank of america that will probably move in to the Pumpkins spot. But there are probably multiple locations much closer to the food coop. Pick up some Tide while you're there, you know, cause the Coop is so green.
Sept. 11, 2008, 10:43 am
Christina and Chiqui from Park Slope says:
Zeb is that you!?!?!? Uncle Leo?????

Come back to the hippy-dippy Slope and help us put more stuff on ebay!!! We miss you and need your moral support!!!

All our love!!!!
Sept. 11, 2008, 2:26 pm
Hank from Park Slope says:
Opening Pumpkins in Park Slope was like putting lipstick on a pig......the Slope is dead....move on Chris and prevail...you and your herbivorous posse will be missed....
Sept. 11, 2008, 3:33 pm
Fiddy from Park Slope says:
Dayum man. Dayum!
Sept. 11, 2008, 4:26 pm
charles from park slope says:
that lady has a giant yellow dick!
Sept. 11, 2008, 6:16 pm
steve says:
the location coupled with their stringent rules killed it
Sept. 12, 2008, 7:18 am
bobby says:
i heard sarah palin is going to rent out the space. now when you walk in she's just going to shoot you in the face.
Sept. 12, 2008, 8:55 am
Malcolm from Bed Stuy says:
My father wears sneakers in the pool!
Sept. 12, 2008, 8:55 am
jim from rat town says:
looks like i picked the wrong week to stop sniffin' glue.
Sept. 12, 2008, 9:01 am
drake says:
i've always wanted a suitcase handcuffed to my wrist.
Sept. 12, 2008, 10:41 am
todd says:
i want to open a sandwich shop on the beach called the "shelly deli"
Sept. 12, 2008, 12:19 pm
stacey, lucas and nico from windsor terrace says:
We still don't get it. Often when we buy "cheap" produce and groceries, we pay in so many other ways: by supporting the people who underpay and exploit workers who pick and prepare the produce, by using our dollars to approve of the environmental toxins used to produce food, by tacitly accepting that large-scale production of dairy and other products is dependent upon antibiotics and pesticides that are responsible for disease and destruction of people, animals, land, air, water . . . . .I know, bla bla bla. But while my consumption habits are far from perfect, I do know that paying a little bit more for ethically produced and thoughtfully selected food, plus the sense of satisfaction from supporting a business that shares your concerns and values, was more than worth it. I will really miss this store and the people who worked there.
Sept. 12, 2008, 9:48 pm
mary jean from park slope says:
I heard this news just after coming back from a trip there. What a total drag! I loved that little store. I loved bringing my containers for detergent and buying in bulk; where can non-Co-op members buy in bulk around here? Not too many places. Dang dang dang.
Sept. 12, 2008, 10:06 pm
glynn from p.s. says:
How did Union Market hurt Pumpkins? Union Market is a freaking joke. Talk about giant yellow dicks... I miss the store already, although I probably should have shopped there more often. Sorry gang.
Sept. 13, 2008, 7:16 pm
Nick from Park Slope says:
“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!”

Their coffee is actually only a single dollar, not a 1.50, fool.

Pumpkins peeps: You deserve a much brighter, selfless audience. Good luck in Minnesota, Christine! Knock'em dead!
Sept. 14, 2008, 12:28 am
sloper from park slope says:
when i moved to the neighborhood, i went in there once, excited by their ethics, not turned off by the prices, still figuring out where i would do my regular grocery shopping.

it sounds cliche, but the lady in the store was incredibly rude to me. so rude that every time i walked by it for the past 6 years i was a little . needless to say, i never returned, and i took my environmental shopping elsewhere in the slope and around brooklyn.

a little bit of customer service (basic politeness) goes a long way.

wonder why so many other organic/eco shops opening and thriving in park slope?
Jan. 4, 2009, 5:36 pm
Kelly from park slope says:
Still missing you pumpkins, after all these months. I don't know the whole staff by name, but I can say that every one of them for the 2 years I shopped there always made my day a little better.

Union market has only gotten worse since you left.

12th street market is disgusting.

Still haven't rejoined the co-op (cause of people like that idiot that commented before me)

And, by the way, "wonder why so many other organic/eco shops opening and thriving in park slope?" Like what? Selling stonyfield yogurt and "cage free" eggs along with Pepsi and proctor and gamble products, and offering plastic bags doesn't count.
June 3, 2009, 1:41 pm

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