Buying bulk food Weigh to Go on Dunbar Street

Spices I buy at Weigh to Go include ground cilantro, nutmeg, mustard seeds, caraway, cumin and chili powder. The bag of instant tapioca in the middle cost $4.90.

Spices I buy at Weigh to Go include ground cilantro, nutmeg, mustard seeds, caraway, cumin and chili powder. The bag of instant tapioca in the middle costs $4.90.

Do you also hate it when you want to try out a new recipe and it starts with “add one clove” or “take half a teaspoon of mustard seeds and mix it with ¼ teaspoon of garam masala?”

Some of these spices are ingredients you will most likely not use for the next year or so, and yet you have to buy an entire package for up to $10.

Not so if you live near Dunbar Village on West 41st Ave. between Dunbar and Collingwood Streets. We are lucky to have the Weigh to Go bulk store, where you can buy your bulk food in kilograms – or milligrams.

“It is so well organized. All the women in the neighbourhood go for cut-up fruit for Christmas cake,” said Lou Lawrence, a retired nurse who lives in the area. “Some of the products are cheaper and fresher than in the IGA…. Once people started shopping there, they wouldn’t stop,” said Lawrence, who has visited the store for many years.

Weigh to Go family business for 10 years

The Weigh to Go bulk store in Dunbar Village at Dunbar Street and West 41st Ave.

The Weigh to Go bulk store in Dunbar Village at Dunbar Street and West 41st Ave.

Lawrence said she liked the current owners of the store. Dan and Irene Small purchased the store 10 years ago. The retired lawyer and high school teacher simply did not want to be bored.

“We used to have busy lives,” said Irene Small, who said her hundreds of products have a high turnover. Small said she has a hard time defining which items are most popular, but lately, natural, special diets and gluten-free products are appreciated by her customers, who range from students to seniors.

The store even got an award for best bulk food store on a CBC morning radio show, said Small, who did not want herself or the store to be photographed. “People know what a bin is,” she said, in a matter-of-fact voice that revealed not a trace of vanity.

Some of her eight grandchildren help out in the store, which is closed two days a week, much to the chagrin of Lawrence. “The only thing I don’t like about them, is that they are closed on Mondays,” she said.

Food security problems reach bulk store

Small, a practical woman of few words, gets more talkative when I ask her about her thoughts on food security, currently a Vancouver City Hall buzz word.

“There is a problem of money,” Small said. “Corn used to be inexpensive, it is now very expensive. The world conditions affect food and agriculture,” she said. For example, she currently has problems with Australian suppliers who cannot deliver raisins after a series of droughts.

Small has also observed more people visiting the bulk store than ten years ago. “The population is more food-educated,” she said, adding she thinks the food industry will have to decrease sugar and damaging ingredients.

Want to know how I bought that clove for the recipe? When I put my little plastic bag with the one clove next to the rest of my groceries, Dan Small looked at me, somewhat amused, and did not type it into the register. Only a true neighbourhood store would do that for you.

Report and photos by Katja De Bock

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