Other than a touch of European accent, the thing that distinguishes me most from the average American is that I am a daily shopper. I have never wanted a proper pantry or coveted a large refrigerator with room for 1,001 forgotten condiments and aging vegetables.
Most of my food shopping is done on impulse or in an emergency. Luckily, my entire life in Atlanta has been spent in the same zip code (30307), and I have always been able to walk to a corner store. One of the reasons I bought a place on McLendon Avenue a few years ago is its proximity to the Candler Park Market.
My earliest memories of the market date from the late 1970s, when it was called McMichael’s. Rumor was that winos lined up on Sundays to buy the Polly Peachtree aftershave stocked in the liquor aisle. A Korean family bought it in the 1980s and kept it pretty much as it was, ringing up my purchases while listening to religious tapes all day. Gentrification started earnestly in the 1990s, when another Korean family took over and their son, James Lee, got interested in stocking the aisles with fine wines. Since 2003, the Candler Park Market has belonged to Dirk Botterbusch, a management consultant of German descent who lives in Inman Park and, with the help of two young relatives, has kept a fine balance between tradition and evolution.
Oddly enough, it was during a trip to Japan that I realized how much the Candler Park Market means to me. The Japanese convenience store (konbini) is the cornerstone of its community. People buy most of life’s necessities (snacks, hot meals, lottery tickets, batteries, beverages, cigarettes, stamps, mousetraps, comics) in the crowded aisles of their konbini, as well as pay their utility bills, complete banking transactions, copy and fax, get documents notarized, and print digital pictures.
The Candler Park Market is my konbini, my bodega, my lifeline. It is there for me when I realize that I ran out of onions for a recipe or that I want one really delicious beer before I go to bed. The staff know most of my secrets: I love candy (mostly Mike and Ikes and Twizzlers), I buy toilet paper four rolls at a time, I eat only under-ripe bananas, and it takes me a long time to pick an avocado. I have a fit if the New York Times
sells out before I get there on Wednesday, forcing me to read the dining section online.
I love everything about the market: the potholed parking lot with its old ice machine and display of gas bottles, the cracked linoleum and the bad lighting inside, the pig ear chewies that sell briskly by the cash register, the sandwich counter in the back. Above all, I love the fact that, quirky appearances to the contrary, the Candler Park Market has a wonderfully up-to-date inventory of Spanish wine, cage-free organic eggs, drinkable yogurt from Sparksman’s Cream Valley, grass-fed ground beef (in the freezer case), Blenheim Hot ginger ale, ripe cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy, tofu sandwiches made with bread from the Bread Garden, and hot peppers individually priced at a quarter each.
The staff feels like family to me. Tall Bobby Childs has toy plastic carts on hand for the children and always offers a kind word. Greg Hutchins studied history in college but instead became an expert grocery manager. His little brother and comanager, Chris, reminds me to buy Greek yogurt every time he sees me.
The market now accepts package deliveries for locals so parcels don’t get snatched from their stoops, and a new self-serve espresso machine makes just the kind of short café au lait I can’t get at my local coffee shops. Every time I look at the displayed love letter sent to Candler Park Market by a neighborhood child, I think of writing one myself. And here it is. 1642 McLendon Avenue, 404-373-9787, candlerparkmarket.com Photograph by Jamey Guy >> Watch Jamey Guy's video tour of the market