Boise Bench Market
Some neighbors call Boise Bench Market one of the best makeovers of a run-of-the-mill convenience store. The proprietors of the market see the store —which hawks everything from U-Haul rentals and birdhouses to raw milk and Christmas trees—as a service to the community.
Boise Bench Market harkens back to an age when corner stores stocked produce from nearby farms and meats from local ranchers, and neighbors bumped into each other while picking up ingredients for that night’s supper.
“I do get a lot of visitors who say, ‘I wish we had this where I was living,’” says owner Eric Lowe.
Autumn shoppers who strolled the market’s open produce aisles found the store decked out in the accoutrements of harvest season with hay bales and corn stalks propped among piles of fresh local apples and bins of old-fashioned candies.
Shoppers can find staples among an eclectic hodgepodge of gifts and specialty epicurean delights. Need a pair of earrings for a birthday gift? Boise Bench Market has it. Got a hankering for raw milk? It’s at the Boise Bench Market. “We try to do a lot of local stuff when we can. It’s us helping farmers helping us,” Lowe says.
Emmett Orchards, Cloverleaf Creamery in Buhl and Matthew’s Happy Chickens in Weiser help stock the market’s stands and refrigerators. But sometimes it’s an even shorter trek between the farmer and the market because what Lowe can’t find from local producers he often farms himself on 10 acres in Nampa.
“Most of the time we know where our food comes from, but when it comes from the [Nampa] farm, we really know where it comes from,” he says.
Fresh Zeppole bread, Idaho Roasting Company coffee, local honey and cage-free eggs in a multitude of colors add some consistency to an inventory that changes with the season. Late-summer peaches that still had customers talking gave way to piles of autumn squash and carving pumpkins that didn’t travel far.
“There’s a big difference between getting them shipped and getting them from down the street,” Lowe says.
The corner storefront once housed a 7-Eleven-styleconveniencestore and became Stonehenge Producein 2011. Then Lowechanged the name to the Boise Bench Market after he recently took over the operation.
The convenient parking, wide doors and wall of windows that typify the convenience store aesthetics remain, but the interior harkens to a cross between a co-op and farmers market with an inventory that mirrors both.
“I really don’t see us as a convenience store. I see us as a very convenient store where you can just pop in to get a few things,” Lowe says.
The market serves as a community focal point for the Vista neighborhood, where area neighbors and workers often stop in for what they can carry in their arms. The store’s walkable location near the intersection of Overland and Vista enables neighbors to shop European-style by purchasing just what they need, when they need it.
The market business runs deep in Lowe’s family. After a stint in the military, a pre-med undergraduate education and work as an electrician that started to fizzle during the recession, Lowe returned to his market roots. And if you’re a regular, it’s likely that Lowe knows your name.
“I think of it as a mom-and-pop store. Why I do that is because my grandma and grandpa had an old grocery store in Nampa,” Lowe says. “They did not have as much produce. They were a convenience store before the Circle Ks and 7-Elevens ran everybody out.”
But the family roots don’t make running a produce shop any easier. “It a tough market. There’s always a lot of places to get milk, cheese and eggs,” Lowe says. “At some point, you think it’s going to get easier.”
“The inspector said this is perfect for what they’re trying to do,” Lowe says.
Lowe sees serving what’s fresh and local as part of the community service the market provides. And it’s the relationship with the community that makes renting U-Hauls and hauling Christmas trees worthwhile.
“The more they support us, the better I’m able to support them,” Lowe says.
Boise Bench Market
2207 W. Overland Rd., Boise • 208-995-0345