Service of a Sleeper Brand: Morton Williams Shines Bright

January 26th, 2017

Categories: Food, Supermarket

morton williams supermarket fruits

I live in an area that doesn’t have the better known and oft-touted grocery stores Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joe’s nearby. I travel to these when I want something they sell but I’ve discovered that a neighborhood grocery chain—Morton Williams Supermarket–without the fame, media coverage and advertising budget of the others nevertheless offers a remarkable variety of high quality options at fair prices. [This wasn’t so when the brand that preceeded it filled the space on Second Avenue in the 40s. It pays to check back.]

My apartment is sandwiched between two branches. Both occupy typical NYC modest spaces–microscopic by out of town standards. Nevertheless, this grocer often carries what I can’t find elsewhere–such as bright red current jelly [for cookies] or Siggi’s liquid yogurt, just two of many examples. I’ve complimented the manager at the 908 Second Avenue branch, Bob Siefring, on this accomplishment. Vegetables and fruits are fresh. When they have a sale, it’s a good one. [I wrote about one in a June 2016 post.]

Speaking of Siggi’s, I dropped by at a time an employee was filling Siggis Yogurtrefrigerator shelves  and asked if he had any of the blueberry flavor [the best]. He left his post, walked briskly to the storage area and brought out a bottle. Another time I couldn’t find mushrooms and the young man neatening the onion display stopped and walked with me to the spot when he could easily have pointed me in the right direction.

We live above a grocery store that bears a well known name in the city and apart from milk, water and seltzer; it rarely has what I am looking for. In spite of sky-high prices, it doesn’t carry fresh cider bottled locally. Morton Williams does. [There was a time you could only buy this cider from the farmer’s market or a specialty food store.]

Do you have a local grocery store—or any establishment—that’s a diamond in the rough, one that surprises you because it’s so much better than you might expect it to be?

morton williams supermarket logo

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10 Responses to “Service of a Sleeper Brand: Morton Williams Shines Bright”

  1. ASK Said:

    For those way up on the West Side, University Hardware and Housewares (2 stores with one other retail outlet separating them), on Broadway are great. I’ve found items, like specialty light bulbs and odd-sized kitchen drain racks, at these stores that I can’t find in the big box stores like Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, et. al. And because products are so densely packed into small spaces, you don’t have to wander the shelves. Show the knowledgeable sales people a cell-phone photo of what you are looking for and they’ll find it. Prices are not outrageous either. I’ve never been disappointed.

  2. hb Said:

    Up to a point, I agree with you about Morton Williams. It seems to be a quality operation, but its two nearest stores to us are four and five blocks away. Propinquity matters if you are old.

    Change comes quickly in New York. When we first came to this neighborhood fifteen years ago, a number of small shops within a block or two of us offered a variety of goods and services, some better than others. Then after a flurry of high-rise apartment buildings went up to the west of us, several of these small shops morphed, for some reason, into dry cleaning or shoe repair establishments; one supermarket failed and another lost its lease, and three mega chain pharmacies popped up almost across from each other. Consequently, while we still have our traditional neighborhood bar and a variety of eateries, there are no quality grocery stores nearby.

    I think I know the reason why this is. When I first came to New York almost 60 years ago, I rented a two bedroom, two bathroom, apartment in a doorman building a block for $285 a month on 90th Street a block from the Park. The high-rises in that neighborhood now hadn’t been built yet, and population density was far less than it is now. My salary wasn’t much, but still enough that my wife could afford to stay a home, and play housewife and mother. Even though there was no convenient super market, we could and did buy locally and ate mostly at home. The Ma and Pa stores were able to survive, because their customers liked buying the essentials of life from people they knew only a block or two away.

    Now women work. Most of us eat out or order in. The supposed demand for quality food, we read and hear about, is mostly hype. The reality is that most New Yorkers survive on bagels and fast food. Even in the fanciest of restaurants, many patrons can’t tell the difference between the pompous Trump’ed up microwaved guck served to them on fancy china by unemployed actors in elaborate settings and genuine great eating.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    No diamonds, rough or otherwise in the Mount Kisco area. To worsen matters, huge drugstore conglomerates have replaced popular supermarkets in the neighboring Chappaqua and Armonk areas, leaving these communities bereft of quality shopping at reasonable cost. At home, the defunct A&P is sorely missed, forcing shoppers to travel several miles up the road for decent fruit and other items no longer available at the closer store. Quality, in local pricier markets, does not always match cost: It’s a bit like Russian Roulette when opening an avocado.

    A fellow shopper raves about the Danbury Trader Joes, one half hour away, but that’s about as good as it gets.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Stores like your hardware store are a pleasure. They save hours and you don’t end up with countless false starts and half-used tubes of the wrong material. May they survive. It’s increasingly hard for small businesses to tread water in NYC between harsh city rules, high rents, unforgiving taxes and the fact that they can’t place, not to speak of store, large orders so as to pay the lowest prices as big boxes can.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb,

    Rents are astronomical in the city so it takes deep pockets for a small food shop or supermarket to unlock the door which may be why there are no good ones inches from you as there might have been before. You can order online from Morton Williams and they will deliver to you. I haven’t used the service but according to my receipt you can do so at http://www.fetchquick.com use code mwreceipt with a minimum order $50.

    The space taken by the Food Emporium–now defunct–on First Avenue and 51st Street is still empty. In some of the other Food Emporiums, Trader Joe’s have arrived. We should be so lucky!

    I had lunch in a once well-loved restaurant that I could tell was microwaved. It arrived hot and one minute later was cold. The batter parted company from the quiche crust and it was soggy. The reason was clear: There were four people there for lunch on a Tuesday. Only the pommes frites were fresh [and they were delicious].

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I bet the Trader Joe’s is great but having to drive one hour [back and forth] to grocery shop isn’t a practical solution. Opening avocados or any other fruit or vegetable, hoping you can eat what’s there, is potentially wasteful not to speak of leaving you with nothing to eat if you’ve tossed what you’d planned on.

    How many drug stores can a community support? Here’s hoping that one transforms into a good supermarket soon.

  7. Iris Bell Said:

    The Food Emporium space on 51st and 2nd was rented by CVS. Nothing has happened for over a year. Recently they covered over the windows with brown paper so we can’t see if any cleanup has begun. I haven’t seen any more in print, I don’t know of CVS pulled out of the deal or if it’s held up for some legal reason or such.

    I read all the retail real estate articles in the Post, NY Times and in Real Deal but there’s been nothing about it. Those publications do occasional articles about empty spaces and projects that get held up, but nothing about the CVS deal. I too have been hoping it will turn into a Trader Joe.

    I agree that Morton Williams is a wonderful store. When they first opened on Second Avenue, I was impressed by their foreign sections. Specialty items from each country in Europe, from many countries in the Middle East, Asia and South America. I thought that would be gone in a year, just something they did for the U.N. workers near by. But they have those sections in all their locations and they’re full of ever changing assortments of interesting things. And the whole of the store is always adding unique items. I often use them to get special gifts for friends…things I can be sure they haven’t seen anywhere else.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Iris,

    You are right about the interesting selections of delicacies from abroad. No neighborhood hopping needed for us to chase down foreign foods! Morton Williams has us covered right here.

    What our neighborhood does NOT need is another drug store. Strange as Lucrezia wrote in her comment about a similar development in Mount Kisco: Reasonably priced supermarkets with fresh foods are gone in this Westchester community, replaced by giant drug stores.

    Rumors about a new Trader Joe’s are floated about a space left empty by a supermarket, [it may have been Food Emporium, I’m not sure], on east 86th street. That neighborhood already has a Fairway and Whole Foods so it must be food-focused. I don’t know what the demographics are for east 51st Street. There are new residential buildings in the area but not enough to carry the volume Trader Joe’s expects I fear.

  9. Iris Bell Said:

    The Walgreens on Second north of the old Food Emporium is closing about Feb. 21st. So a new drug store might be able to generate enough business to be successful.

    You think the neighborhood doesn’t need more drugstores. I see drugstores as general stores. Beside pharmacies they have assortments often including groceries, clothing, hardware, greeting cards, stationery supplies and whatever they think people need. When the dime stores closed decades ago it was mainly the drugstores that took their place with lots of miscellaneous stuff for everyday living.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Iris,

    That Walgreens has been on its last legs for eons. The few times I’ve been in it over years I was almost alone; the layout, lighting and atmosphere were depressing.

    You are right about the transformation of drugstores. Nevertheless I’d much rather see a Trader Joe’s in the Food Emporium spot than CVS. You are a walker–I bet on any given day you pass from three to five drugstores just going about your business.

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