by Karen Plourde
Someday, Annie Gontarek will be able to put her time in the grocery business in her rear view mirror. But for now, being shift manager at Weavers Way (WW) Mt. Airy is a way to support herself while she works out what she wants to do next in life.
Annie, 27, graduated from Penn State Abington last December with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Her introduction to grocery retail was at Caruso’s, where she started in 2006 after taking time off from Millersville University. (Caruso’s, which was at 8424 Germantown Ave. for just over 100 years, closed in September, 2008. It was in the building now occupied by Weavers Way.)
“Caruso’s was really, like, the first real job I had,” she said, “and, y’know, it taught me a lot about customer service. Most of the times, I would be the only cashier … The people who worked there were really cool, too. So it was kind of like a family because it was so small.”
Annie began working at Weavers Way in February, 2009, part-time as a cashier and took classes at Montgomery County Community College. About a year later, her older brother, Wes, was hired in the kitchen at Weavers Way Chestnut Hill, where he’s now closing kitchen manager. “My mom was like, ‘How would you feel if Wes applied at the Co-op?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to work with him.’” She backed off once her mom assured her he was applying only to Chestnut Hill, keeping 2.5 miles between them.
Annie and Wes often get together for lunch on Fridays, when they’re both off. Of course, work seeps into their conversations. “We always end up talking about the Co-op, which is kind of annoying,” she said. They also have an older sister, Kate, a social worker and the mother of two girls.
Although Annie grew up in East Mt. Airy, her family didn’t belong to Weavers Way until she started working there. “People are like, ‘Oh, did you grow up in the Co-op?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ I don’t want to die at the Co-op, either.”
This summer, Annie took four weeks off from Weavers Way to travel to South Korea with Jenna Balaban, who works in prepared foods in WW Mt. Airy. They were both adopted from Korea as infants.
“It was so fun. I would move there, like, if I could convince my family to move there,” she said. She and Jenna flew into Busan, stayed with a former co-worker in Ulsan for a week, then traveled on to Seoul for another week.
“We took a taxi around a lot for the first week we were there, so everywhere we were going we would get the address on our phone in Korean, and we’d just have to show the taxi driver … But it was really cool. We went to … palaces; we went to a couple of parks … I didn’t realize how much Koreans like sweets. There was a coffeehouse or cafe, like, every other storefront.”
Now that she’s back, the Wyndmoor resident is trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. “My plan was … to settle down into a career, but now that I’m back, I don’t know if I want to do that yet,” she said. “… and a part of me is like, I’m still, like, kinda young. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, so I can still kinda do whatever I want … so, I don’t know.”
While Annie’s considering her options, the Co-op continues to give her a solid footing. “I like the feeling of community and the fact that, like, people know each other,” she said. “It’s just, like, a good feeling.”
Weavers Way Co-op is a member-owned consumers’ cooperative with stores open to everyone. Founded in 1973 as a neighborhood food buying club in a church basement in West Mt. Airy, Weavers Way has grown to more than 5,200 member households, with annual sales of nearly $20 million. After moving to its location at 559 Carpenter Lane, Weavers Way expanded, purchasing the adjacent building and consolidating the two buildings.
Subsequent expansions included the purchase of other buildings in the neighborhood, which house a pet supply store, health and wellness store and offices. In 2010, Weavers Way underwent a major expansion, adding a second store in Chestnut Hill, which had been vacant for two years after Caruso’s closed. Then, in 2013, WW opened a health and beauty specialty store next door to WW Chestnut Hill.
More information about WW Chestnut Hill at 215-866-9150 or www.weaversway.coop.