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Garden City Zero-Waste Market to Premier a New, Old World Way to Shop

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When the news came down the pipeline that the City of Boise's new Hefty EnergyBag recycling program won't accept plastic clamshell containers or water bottles, it reaffirmed Boise native Lea Rainey's resolve in her new business venture: opening a micro-grocery and cafe—dubbed Roots Zero Waste Market—to sell bulk produce to customers without single-use plastics.

Lea Rainey's homemade honey will be available for purchase at Roots. - LEA RAINEY
  • Lea Rainey
  • Lea Rainey's homemade honey will be available for purchase at Roots.

"I think that everyone is acutely aware of our plastic problem, not just in the United States but globally," said Rainey. "I was inspired by traveling in Europe for work and seeing these zero-waste markets where you simply focus on the food. You go in, you bring your own container, weigh it, fill it up and pay for it. And I just thought it was brilliant because it really takes out the stress of trying to figure out, 'Okay, what do I have to do with this plastic packaging now?'"

The market will sell bulk goods like pastas, beans, dried fruit and grains from stainless steel gravity bins, as well as fruits and vegetables kept fresh by an ionized-water misting system, and a selection of dairy and eggs. Plus, Rainey plans to offer bulk beauty supplies like lotions and shampoos from glass dispensers, and even hopes to find a way to sell bulk toothpaste. The building will also house a community space and "bistro cafe," which will use produce from the market for deli items, sandwiches and juices, and sell local beer, wine, cider and coffee. Meat won't be stocked in the market, but the deli will use some cuts for its entrees. Everything sold at Roots will be as organic, non-GMO, fair trade and locally sourced as possible.

"We'll have on-site compost as well," said Rainey, "so that we can really maximize every little bit of everything that comes out of the store."

The concept for Roots has been brewing for more than a decade. Before working for 14 years as a global delivery manager for Hewlett-Packard, Rainey was a catering manager for chef Lisa Peterson, who owns a'Tavola Gourmet Marketplace & Cafe. She also worked at the Boise Co-op before it left its old location on Hill Road.

Lea Rainey keeps bees in her backyard to make her own honey. - LEA RAINEY
  • Lea Rainey
  • Lea Rainey keeps bees in her backyard to make her own honey.

Rainey said she used to be a typical consumer—she didn't hesitate to buy plastic-swaddled vegetables or individually-wrapped granola bars in cardboard boxes. But over the years, her environmental views caught up with her lifestyle, and her family now uses bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones, keeps bees to make homemade honey (which will be up for sale at Roots) and buys as much in bulk as possible. Rainey said her frustration with the process of purchasing bulk items in containers she brought from home at places like the Boise Co-op was a big factor in moving forward with Roots.

"The problem that we have in Boise is that while we have some good bulk food sections, no one there really makes it easy for you," said Rainey. "... You have to take all of your bulk containers up to a cash register and kind of check out before you check out, so that they can weigh everything for you, and then you go and fill them and come back."

At Roots, bulk purchases will work on a streamlined honor system. Weigh stations located around the store will allow customers to weigh their containers—anything goes, and Roots will offer glass jars, and hemp and organic cotton bags for those who don't want to bring a vessel from home—and record the weight before filling them. At the register, cashiers will subtract the original weight from the final one to figure out the price of the item.

Roots should be open in the former Ali Baba Hookah Bar space in Garden City by October 2018. - LEA RAINEY
  • Lea Rainey
  • Roots should be open in the former Ali Baba Hookah Bar space in Garden City by October 2018.

"We want to change the way that people are consuming, but we want to make it really easy for them," said Rainey.

Roots went from an idea to a reality in early May when Rainey and her business partner, 30-year restaurant and bar industry veteran Zach Yunker, started final negotiations on the former Ali Baba Hookah Bar space at 3308 E. Chinden Boulevard. The spot is in Garden City's Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District, which Rainey feels is a great fit for her community concept. The permitting process is ongoing, but Rainey said Roots should be open for business by October 2018.

Right now, Rainey is funding the venture with her personal savings and support from three angel investors, but she's planning a funding drive Wednesday-Sunday, May 23-June 10, as a final push before Roots opens its doors.

"We are asking 10,000 people in the community to give $10," Rainey wrote in an email. "... Every person who donates on our website will have their name printed on our Community Wall in the market as a sign of appreciation and investment in this Big Idea we have to create a healthier community and planet."