Canyon Market: Five years and going strong

An accordion serenades the crowd. Photo by Murray Schneider

By Murray Schneider

The Canyon Market turned five years old on November 21st, so owners Janet and Richard Tarlov threw a birthday party for their village grocery on December 10th.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to the community,” said Janet Tarlov, sitting in her postage-sized office, which she shares with her bookkeeper.

In the adjacent office, Richard Tarlov huddled over an electronic device, tinkering with it preparatory to returning it to service. “We’re thrilled,” he said. “Our customers are the best we’ve ever dealt with.”

On a sunny Saturday for eight hours, streams of Canyon shoppers pushed carts and carried bagged groceries through well-stocked aisles, entertained by a roving accordion player and a fairy who painted children’s faces. Amused by balloons being sculpted and enticed by raffle tickets promising surprises, they sampled cheeses and cured meats from platters and trays and sipped wine poured by two hosts behind a wine bar in the rear of the full-service market.

They even munched cotton candy. “Richard loves it,” Janet said about her husband. “This was his excuse to get a machine.”

The Canyon Market, which opened only a few days before Thanksgiving in 2006, anchors a multi-use building, which also houses a library and ­­15 condominiums.

When the Tarlovs came to Glen Park they brought with them nearly two decades of grocery experience. After catching the food passion bug in Paris, Richard worked at the Natural Food Co-op in Montpelier, Vermont, traveled to Manhattan where he worked for famed Dean and De Luca, eventually crossing the country to take a job with Northern California’s Oakville Grocery. Janet got her start in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working at storied Zingermans and worked at Oakville, as well.

“We’re still a work-in-progress,” said Janet, jammed into her pint-sized office several days after the December 10th festivities. Employees crowded by her open door, inching along a narrow corridor, its walls covered with employee time cards, shift schedules and work orders, a view her shoppers never see. “We’re a reflection of what works well and what customers and staff want.”

Janet swiveled on a task chair sandwiched beneath her desk while her bookkeeper tallied his accounts. “Most of our products are by customer request,” she said. “We’re focused on a neighborhood, unlike the Goliaths.”

Named with Glen Canyon in mind, the independently owned Canyon Market positions itself as the “Village Grocer,” offering a sense of place as much as it provides fresh fish, organic beef and loaves of daily baked aromatic bread. It prides itself on being part of a larger landscape that eschews homogenization and forgoes corporate fiefdoms, where a Tyger’s isn’t supplanted by a Denny’s, where Glen Park Hardware isn’t usurped by a Home Depot, and where Bird and Beckett isn’t rendered obsolete by Amazon.

“I’m proudest of the 80 jobs we’ve created,” said Janet, who believes the neighborhood has changed the most in the ensuing half-decade by the addition of local destination restaurants such as Le P’tit Laurent, Gialina and now Tataki Canyon.

The Tarlovs welcome change, convinced that a recent village transformation benefits everyone. “The Farmers Market worked beautifully,” Janet said. “I can’t wait for it to open again. Sunday is now our busiest day.”

In the five years since the Canyon Market opened its doors, the Tarlovs have watched their staff mushroom from 40 to 80 people, have witnessed neighborhood babies born, and have seen employees leave for college, some eventually graduating.

“J.L. recently went off to Sacramento State,” said Janet, referring to a Jefferson High School graduate who cashiered during her junior and senior years in high school. “And any day now we’re waiting the birth of Maria’s new baby.”

Doubling her staff in five years has a downside, making her hostage to her own success. Noting she spends as much time closeted in her office with personnel performance reviews as she does reviewing inventory, she feels somewhat chained to her desk.  “It’s more than a full time job,” she said.”

Adam Cuttler, a front shift supervisor, entered the office. Most conspicuous at the coffee bar at the Diamond Street entrance where he assists as a barista, Cuttler, a three-year employee, is an unapologetic booster for his employer.

“There’s energy in the store,” he said. “It’s more than just selling groceries. We’re like an extended family.”

“We’ve created good jobs, jobs that are both creative and allow our employees to interact with people.” Janet said, echoing Cuttler.

On the day that Janet donned a graphic T-shirt announcing Richard and her fifth anniversary in Glen Park, her staff engineered a special interaction with the community.

“We designed a mystery bag fund.” said Cuttler.“ The money we collected going to a worthy cause.”  “We received $250 and the staff voted,” said Janet, turning toward Cuttler. “Glen Park Elementary beat out the SPCA and the food bank.”

She leaned forward, dipping two fingers into a jar perched on her desk and looked over her shoulder at Cuttler.  “Time to pick the raffle winner, too.”

Glen Park shoppers are all winners. They’ve become beneficiaries of a full-scale market around their corner and down their block, which is attuned to their needs, and Janet Tarlov bristles a bit at the shibboleth that labels her family grocery “high end.”

“Glen Park is a diverse place with pockets of unique cultures in an incredibly busy transit hub,” she said. “I dislike the word gourmet. Food is food and it should be accessible.”

Might be fighting words to local foodies, who like their sliced meats slivered just so.  “Prosciutto is pig,” said Janet, with culinary certitude. “How many different ways are there to prepare ham?”

Mary Huizinga may or may not forgo prosciutto, but the Laidley Street resident makes a dynamite batch of homemade pumpkin cookies and enjoys her Canyon shopping experience as much as she enjoys volunteering in Glen Canyon every Wednesday.

“I like it because I can buy herbs and spices in small amounts, instead of big jars,” she said, “and popcorn, flour and granola in the quantities I want instead of those that Safeway finds convenient to sell me.”

Huizinga is often seen walking along Wilder Street with her dog Chester, who takes any opportunity to slurp from a bowl of water Janet puts out for thirsty canines.

“When you think about it,” Huizinga said, “it’s the kind of thing people were used to one hundred years ago – the corner butcher and green grocer.”

And maybe that’s what Janet and Richard Tarlov can hang their grocer’s apron on as they turn the corner on the next five years. At a time when the ephemeral is the coin of the realm, when fads have a shelf life of 15-minutes, when a click of a mouse gets one Googled to virtual reality, the Canyon Market offers a brick and mortar familial place where a generation of moms and dads and kids can catch their breath, gander and gab and ponder character. They can taste samples of Canyon chicken liver and can snack on chocolate chip cookies, both hardwired to grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and, if the weather is amenable, they can even amble over to the tables in front of the market, take seats, imagine that other canyon where coyotes prowl, hawks spiral and owls nest and maybe even lean down and pet Chester while he gulps his water.

Then they can re-enter the store, collect a cart or hand basket and get down to some serious shopping. As for the Tarlovs, as interested in making a living as they are in fashioning a landmark, they’re already planning their next party. “We’re thinking about an employee bowling party to show are appreciation to our staff,” said Janet.

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