The convenience store—also known as the bodega, party store, corner shop, 7-Eleven, and/or mini-mart—is one of the crucial cogs of American society. Such stores are so common, they're easy to take for granted. You don't need one until you do, and then the sprint to the mini-mart instead of the drive to the supermarket makes all the difference in the world: the midnight diaper run, the racing-to-a-job-interview-and-need-a-cigarette tango, the crushingly immediate Pringles need.
The bodegas I know best are those situated in my time-sensitive path: the Good Neighbor Mart around the corner from where I live in the Central District (close enough for an early-morning milk run in pajamas); the Plaid Pantry across from the Seven Gables Theatre in the University District (many a 10:00 a.m. press screening has been fueled by convenient granola bars); that whatever-the-hell-it-is-mart near On the Boards in Lower Queen Anne, perfect for intermission munchies- busting (if you attend OtB without cottonmouth, you're a fool).
For many lucky Ballardites, the ass-saving bodega of choice will soon be Snacks!, a spiffy one-room shop that recently opened next to King's Hardware on Ballard Avenue Northwest. Snacks! was conceived and created by Dante Rivera, the man behind Ballard's beloved hot-doggery Dante's Inferno Dogs. His dream for Snacks!: a small but effective mini-mart offering all the convenience-store standards (candy, soda, toiletries) alongside higher-end local products (Zane & Zack's hot sauces, Molly Moon's ice cream). Ultimately, Snacks! hopes to operate as a sort of convenience-store satellite of the retail portion of the Ballard Farmers Market, with an inventory split 50-50 between 7-Eleven staples and local specialties.
For now, Snacks! is a wide-open work in progress, a fact addressed by the two-by-four-foot wish list hanging near the door that invites customers to share their dreams for Snacks! inventory. It is the greatest poem about America since "Leaves of Grass":
Vernors ginger ale (X2!!)
Sparks (black can!)
Smarties (YES! Yes!)
Day of the Dead candles!
It's a brilliantly obvious way to stock a store: Ask people want they want, then sell it to them. As it is, the ever-evolving inventory of Snacks! covers plenty of bases in fine style. Spinning hardware-store nail bins are filled with quick-grab snacks. A tin bucket brims with individual lightbulbs. A small, old-timey freezer hums in the corner with a bellyful of 25¢ Otter Pops. In the center of the shop: an elegant wooden display table, home to local specialties that will eventually fill half the store. Looking down on everything: the elevated platform holding the cash register, its operator, and a small variety of hot and cold food options. The hot: prepped-on-the-premises wieners from Dante's Inferno Dogs, including the legendary Coney Island dog, featuring sauce imported by Rivera from his home state of Michigan. The cold: the Chilly Dog, a visionary concoction involving a lightly toasted hot-dog bun covered with a layer of smooth peanut butter and filled with soft-serve ice cream. (Speaking of stoner-friendly delights: Snacks! also offers a variety of puddings in single-serving cups, kept chilled in a refrigerated bin. The store stays open till 2:30 a.m. both Friday and Saturday.)
But more than the sum of its for-sale parts, Snacks! hopes to grow into a vibrant new oasis in the life of Ballard Avenue—a business designed to help all the other businesses in the neighborhood run more smoothly ("Eighty percent of our business comes from nearby merchants," Rivera tells me), housed in a po-mo mom-and-pop store where regulars are known by name. And while the store's not yet fully stocked, Rivera says the foundation of Snacks! "has the feeling I'm looking for."
Late on a Friday night, this commercial-meets-communal feeling is in full effect. When I enter, the young clerk issues a friendly "Hi!" then gets back to serving the group before him—a half-dozen twentysomethings out for a night of Ballard barhopping, stopping in for some heat-busting soft-serve. "It's her birthday!" announces one of the group, and the clerk leads the store in tributary song. Meanwhile, a make-up-caked refugee from the night's Zombie Walk stops in for a Red Bull and joins in the singing. Snacks!: Uniting tipsy birthday girls, lagging zombies, and needy stoners since 2009.