Outside the Loop: Jungle Jims

by Jessica Hopsicker

Jungle Jim’s International Food Market on Rt. 4 in Fairfield, isn’t just a grocery store, it is a nationally-known tourist destination.

With over six and a half acres of floor space and more than a hundred thousand products from roughly seventy-five countries around the world, people make the pilgrimage to shop this Mecca of merchandise from all over the Tri-State. It was the kind of Sunday afternoon in the Jungle, I wished I was at least fifteen feet taller.

With the added advantage of extra long legs I could stride right over this great congregation of consumers, indiscriminately plucking up people and placing them accordingly and out of my way. My roommates and I were there on a mission to pick up food for dinner and seeing how this sprawling supermarket is a mere mile from our apartment, it was our grocery store of choice. As it was for everyone else it seemed that Sunday.

There were men, women and children of varying shapes, sizes, and nationalities. Countless customers were milling about gawking, grocery shopping, and clogging up the aisles.

On days like this, navigation through the Jungle takes a great deal of determination, perhaps a pith helmet, and a pair of horse blinders. There are so many things to look at before you know it, you’re the one blocking the aisle.

Jutting out towards Route 4, beckoning like a come-hither finger is an actual working monorail, taken from the former wild animal habitat at Kings Island. Poised at another entrance is an animal pond which boasts large replicas of gorillas, spouting elephants and striding giraffes. Inside you can traipse through the beer and wine section, which is considered one of the largest in the United States, with the awe and wonderment of a child. Poke excitedly around the exotic meat selection, which carries anything from antelope medallions to a whole frozen rattlesnake.

Even the restrooms amaze, whose entrances are disguised as Rumpke portapotties. Stepping through those rigid plastic doors is like stepping into Narnia.

Along a back wall is a European village with the store front facades of the all different countries and each variety of food they pertain to. Great Britain is topped with a Sherwood Forest. A giant Campbell’s Soup can sits on a swing suspended from the ceiling loudly greets you in the soup aisle. There is a rock band of General Mills cereal mascots, a mini “SS Minnow” boat, penguins in the frozen food department, an antique fire truck, a really big cheese, and a lion dressed like Elvis that sings in the candy section.

The shelves themselves are also topped with all sorts amazing stuff, a great array of antiquities and oddities. You could venture into Jungle Jim’s for every day for a year and still find something new you have not yet noticed.

This fabulous funhouse of food and product playland is the inspiration of one man, the sorcerer of savings Jungle Jim himself, Jim Bonaminio.

He was given the nickname for he always dressed in shorts. His empire spawned from a simple roadside produce stand in the early 70s, and underwent many reincarnations and relocations to become the nationally known grocery store and theme park he coined “Foodieland;” where he has been known to don a wizards robe and go about the store on a pair of roller skates or hop on a Segway and perform acts of price magic. Or you can see him standing at the railing of his upper level office watching over his store with all the customers and fervent foodie followers.

He pays extra close attention to his precious produce section placed right below him. It seems the ceaseless strings of recessions have barely touched the vibrant thriving ecosystem that is now The Jungle. His goal was to transform the simple act shopping a fun experience other than a chore and something you have to do to eat.

There is no doubt, he just did that.