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Syracuse Real Food Co-op among the cutting edge of really green grocers

A stack of brown, recycled paper bags are kept at the cash registers, but for the most part, customers don't need them--they bring their own reusable cloth bags. A sign taped to a cash register announces that the co-op will pay shoppers 5 cents for every reusable bag they bring in and fill.

Small in structure ... big on selection

The co-op building used to be a butcher shop roughly 50 years ago. Today, with hardwood floors and an ornate ceiling patterned with flower garland molding, the store looks as if it is run out of someone's living room.

At 1,200 square feet, the co-op is the size of a one-bedroom house. The limited space in the store allows only a small stock of the essentials. The perishable produce fits into one refrigerated display. Heartier fruits and vegetables such as potatoes and onions occupy a single table. Luxuries such as a butcher counter don't exist. However, many items in the store are organic, gluten-free, or locally farmed. In this sense, the tiny co-op offers a selection of items not available in some supermarkets that sprawl across acres of floor space.

The clientele who wander in and out of the store are mainly local people from the community, Stone said. However, for such a small store with such specialized merchandise, the appeal is not as niche as expected.

"It's everyone," Stone said. "I don't know if I should give you stereotypes, but I could give you soccer moms, I could give you the Straight Edge hardcore kids, I could give you earthy people . . . people involved in the community, people I've never seen before, business people."

Smiling, he ticks off his clients on his fingers.

"One thing about the co-op is that we try to appeal to everyone. We're not going to judge a person who comes in with a suit and a tie or a person who comes in with tie-dye," Stone said as he gestured at his own brightly colored tie-dyed shirt with a shrug.

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