A little corner grocery aims to make local produce
more accessible—and less intimidating—for everyone
By Robin Babb · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Liz Gaylor, owner of tiny grocer ABQ in the Old Town neighborhood of Albuquerque.
Although tiny grocer ABQ is new, the idea for it had been percolating for quite a while by the time it opened in 2020. Liz Gaylor first thought of opening a little, locally focused grocer back in 2008, when she was living in northern Colorado. Farm-to-table restaurants and community-supported agriculture (CSA) were just starting to take off, and the new attention to local, sustainable farming was prompting all sorts of new business models. At the time, she was working at a farm that had a CSA program, and saw the potential—but also the fatal flaw—of the traditional CSA model.
“People would sign up for these CSAs but then wouldn’t stick around for them, because they’d get beets or something in their weekly box and go, ‘I don’t know how to cook this, and then we go out to eat instead, and then we waste this fresh produce, and then I feel bad!’” Gaylor recalls. “It seemed like the processing of [the produce] was kind of the missing piece.”
In researching alternatives, Gaylor came across Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. A community-supported kitchen, Three Stone Hearth sources all (or most) of their ingredients locally, then turns those ingredients into dishes that people can simply pick up and take home to serve for dinner. No waste, no worrying what to cook with the vegetables in your CSA box that you don’t know the name of or don’t know how to prepare. It was exactly the model that Gaylor was looking to replicate in Colorado.
Unfortunately, Gaylor had to table the idea—the Great Recession hit in 2007, and opening a new business suddenly didn’t seem wise. On top of the financial straits of the time, the drought in the Southwest caused many farms to close down, including the one that Gaylor was working at.
“After all that, I was like, ‘I’m never gonna work for somebody ever again,’” she says.
That year, she started making and selling small-batch soap at a local farmers market. Her small enterprise quickly grew, and Gaylor pursued a certificate in clinical herbalism so that she could expand her product line. In 2014, she officially opened Mountain Aven Herbal, and began selling her homemade lotions, salves, and tinctures online in addition to at the farmers market. “My regulars really kept me afloat during those years, and have ever since,” she says.
Cold case at tiny grocer ABQ loaded with local products.
In the fall of 2019, Gaylor got the opportunity that she had been looking for to move back to Albuquerque. She rented an open space in Old Town that became Old Town Herbal, where she still sells her Mountain Aven products, along with plenty of other herbs and herbal products from local and regional growers and producers. In addition to body care products, there are locally produced vinegars, honey, and tea for sale.
Of course, Gaylor didn’t realize she was in for another global crisis. The pandemic was rough on her newly opened business, and she kept Old Town Herbal closed to everything except online and curbside orders through most of last year. Despite the dire situation, when the café right next to Old Town Herbal closed down during the pandemic, she recognized it as an opportunity to make her original idea for a local grocer come to life. In August of 2020, she opened up tiny grocer ABQ.
The landlord was more than happy to rent her the tiny corner store, which offered just enough space for some simple food prep, a gelato freezer, some pantry shelves, and a display fridge. There, Gaylor and her staff sell fresh produce, meat, eggs, bread, and dairy from local producers, as well as some prepared and packaged food. Customers can get coffee and housemade scones, or pick up groceries for the rest of the week.
Although it’s located in Old Town—one of the more touristy parts of the city—Gaylor says that the majority of her customers are locals, especially people who live in the neighborhood and are grateful to have a source of fresh produce within walking distance. The farmers and producers that she buys from are grateful, too, especially since farmers markets were mostly shut down over the last year. And after recently getting certified to sell local produce through the Double Up Food Bucks program, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers to buy local produce at half price, Gaylor is hoping that her little grocery is even more accessible to local customers.
Recently, tiny grocer ABQ started hosting monthly Community Supper events organized by Cassidy Tawse-Garcia, the baker behind the microbakery Masa Madre. The pay-what-you-can dinners are prepared by local chefs with locally grown produce, and provide a great opportunity for diners to meet the farmers and ranchers working to feed the Albuquerque area. In the anxious days of relearning how to socialize after being cooped up inside for the past year and a half, these dinners are a welcome way for people to connect to the wider community in a cozy environment. After a summer break, tiny grocer ABQ will start Community Suppers again in September, with the schedule and menus posted on their Instagram.
Despite the fact that she’s opened two businesses in the past three years, Gaylor isn’t done with new ideas. She recently leased a restaurant kitchen near tiny grocer ABQ and Old Town Herbal to facilitate preparing food, and she’s hoping to find a larger space where she can combine Old Town Herbal and tiny grocer ABQ into one operation, with a bigger kitchen and the capacity to process and store food throughout the year. This would allow her to expand her menu of prepared soups and sandwiches, and make it easier to freeze and preserve produce while it’s in season (and keep food waste down in the process). This way, too, customers can buy only the local produce that they know they’ll use—instead of getting a case of CSA overwhelm.
422 San Felipe NW, Albuquerque, 505-705-1601