Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of the nation’s top 25 independent retailers, Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. If you’ve never been, be forewarned: this is not your routine trip to the corner grocery store. It is an entertainment and food experience for both foodies and those who wish they were. Count on being there for several hours.
Jungle Jim’s is Wegman’s-meets-the-zoo-plus-NASCAR with a foreign accent. From the faux elephants and giraffes that greet you at the entrance along with a NASCAR race car complete with traffic lights at the door, the experience truly “takes off.” The store showcases a vast array of international delicacies including middle eastern fare and more kinds of Italian pastas than you can count. A talking Robin Hood stands watch over the British food section. Love cheese? Olives? Wine? Beer? Seafood? Octopus? Goat meat? Kangaroo? Rare South African delicacies? How about a King Henry VIII privy? They are all there. As I walked around the store I heard people speaking many different languages and I had to keep reminding myself I was, in fact, in Fairfield, Ohio and not some urban, coastal metropolis.
We entered with no plans to buy anything and walked out more than $100 lighter. We had Gruyere cheese from Switzerland, a couple of Jungle Jim’s aprons, Dutch candles, French sea salt, beef jerky, trail mix, candy, organic shower cleaner and some apples and delicious fresh cantaloupe to show for it.
One of the things Jim tells you in the short video he narrates of the store’s history (there is a tiny movie theatre in this grocery) is to hang onto your dreams whatever they may be. His store began as a simple roadside fruit stand in the early 70’s and grew from there thanks to his marketing and entrepreneurial genius and understanding of mass customization; he found a unique niche and gives his customers what they ask for. Bravo Jim! The world needs more dreamers like you.