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  •   In The Market? Try Singles Night Shoppers Mingle, Disco Dance, Peruse More Than Groceries

    By Susan Saulny
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    June 21, 1997; Page C01

    When Chris Vallier shops at the Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market in Arlington, she usually finds what she's looking for -- a can of tuna, a carton of milk.

    Thursday night was no different. She stopped by after work just to shop around and perhaps to pick up something yummy.

    But what she left with couldn't fit into a shopping bag, be it paper or plastic.

    The item that caught her eye was in the pasta aisle, between the bagels and the bread, and it certainly wasn't the cheese spread. Six feet tall, with blond hair, blue eyes and a nice smile, his name was Al, and he was definitely on her shopping list.

    Most of the singles that night at the organic grocery store weren't as much in the market for food as they were in the market for love.

    Fresh Fields organized its first Washington area Singles Night on Thursday, an effort to foster romance among its customers and to provide another reason for them to spend time in the store.

    And for some people, according to the "General Matchmaker" (known as General Manager Renee Harrison any other day of the week), a grocery store is the perfect place for love to bloom.

    "Our stores have a really wonderful atmosphere, with lots of sampling and demonstrations going on, which makes interaction easy," Harrison said. "There are a lot of singles in this area. They are educated, work long hours and shop here. There's a common denominator with our customers, and that's a good start."

    But what about the "Social Safeway" in Georgetown, which has long held the distinction of premier pickup point, or the dry cleaning place in Georgetown that puts pictures of its single customers on the wall?

    Several devotees of Fresh Fields -- which specializes in organically grown foods -- said the selection there was better.

    "The people who shop here as opposed to a regular food store have more of an interest in health and fitness," said Anne Schwab. "I think that's why people catch my eye here."

    Schwab should know "attractive" when she sees it; she owns a local modeling and casting agency. "I hope to bump carts with some of the good-looking men I see here at the next Singles Night," she said.

    To set a festive tone, Fresh Fields pumped up the music. "Retro Disco" was the theme of the night. In the store's cafe, where many munched on salads and smoothies, candlelight added a hint of romance to the industrial lighting.

    For a $2 donation each participant received a name tag with a choice of stickers to illustrate hobbies and interests. Proceeds went to the Arlington Arts Center. The grocery plans at least two more Singles Nights, in July and August.

    Maj. Charles Thompson, of the U.S. Marine Corps, picked a stethoscope sticker. A curious woman asked, "Are you a doctor?" He replied, "No, but I can take care of you."

    Just then, the General Matchmaker appeared. "Is there anything I can do? Just tell me what you're looking for, and I'll do my best to look around the store for it," she said.

    Mike McGroarty, who works for the Public Health Service in Fairfax County, chimed in. "I like a sense of humor."

    The Matchmaker responded, "Are you a David Letterman cynical type, or do you like it more -- " "I just like to laugh." "Fabulous. Are you looking for honesty? Are you into music? . . . I'll be back." Not everyone was love-happy.

    "I'm actually horrified by the disco; the crowd is just a little bit older than me," said 24-year-old Jeremy Coffey, a graduate student at George Washington University. "But being a meat-eating conservative, this isn't exactly my demographic anyway."

    A crowd of about 100 people mingled near the store's juice bar, and many who actually came to the grocery store to buy food mixed in and out of the crowd of mostly middle-aged professionals.

    Coffey's friend, Dan Vice, 25, didn't immediately put on a name tag to advertise his singleness.

    "I figured this would either be a good idea or a bunch of desperate people," he said. "We didn't want people to know we were here for it until we established if it was cool." So was it cool? "I think it's very weird to have a singles night in a grocery store," said Linda Kallmeyer, 27, who was surprised to stumble into it.

    Waiting for a friend near the checkout line, Christina Kerr, 30, agreed. "It's unsettling. This is my time to buy food, and I see guys scoping me? I think the supermarket is the place of last resort."

    But couples making goo-goo eyes in the corner felt differently. "I'm excited, very excited. I think I'm going to have a great time," said Al Dickinson, of pasta aisle fame, before he left for an impromptu pizza date with Vallier, an attorney from Bethesda.

    A tarot card reader was on hand to provide the love forecast, and Vallier, 40, found her reading amusing. "The tarot card reader said that tonight I would have a life-changing event," she said.

    Vallier's friend Mindee Pizer, a teacher from Alexandria, said: "Of course, she told us all we would have life-changing events tonight. Not yet for me."

    Ann-Marie Burtell, an astrologer and writer from Alexandria, did not leave arm in arm either. "You know when you see 'em; you know when you don't. I'm going home."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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