Why an illustration of renowned author David Foster Wallace hangs in a local grocery store

Pictured is 618 Kensington Road, home of the Syracuse Real Food Co-op. Formed in 1972, Jameelah Oxedine, formerly of the Post-Standard, wrote that the organization began when 20 people involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement pooled their resources together to provide food options that were nutritious, chemical-free and locally produced.

The Co-op started in a nearby garage, as goods were purchased from local farmers’ markets and distributed to members. Four years later, in 1976, the organization was incorporated and moved to its current location on Kensingston Road. Research completed by local historian, Dick Case, shows the building was built as a grocery store in the 1920s and is listed in a 1930 city directory indicting it was owned and operated by Frank Vurrano, who lived next door.

Across the street from the Co-op sits an old farmhouse at the corner of Kensingston Road and Miles Avenue. Originally containing hay loafs and an animal barn, the building was later converted to apartments and was once home to David Foster Wallace.

Wallace, born in Ithaca, New York, was a renowned author who garnered national attention with his first novel, “The Broom of the System,” in 1987. According to D.T. Max of The New Yorker, Wallace moved from Boston to Syracuse in June 1992. It was here at the old farmhouse that Wallace rented a small one bedroom apartment. Wallace had come to the area to work as a visiting author in the English Department’s Living Writers course at nearby Syracuse University. It has been said that Wallace would walk around the area with his notebook, often stopping to write on local benches.

Former farmhouse at the corner of Kensington Road and Miles Avenue

Wallace lived in the upper unit furthest to the left when looking at the former farmhouse. D.T. Max wrote that the apartment was so small that Wallace would tell his friend that “his own body heat would keep it warm enough.” It’s here where he wrote the majority of his most famous work, “Infinite Jest.” The book has sold over one million copies and was named to TIME’s 100 greatest novels list.

Brilliant but troubled, Wallace’s time in Syracuse was not without controversy. A turbulent relationship with a fellow author and colleague at Syracuse University resulted in accusations of assault and stalking. Critics have stated his obsession with the author fueled his motivation and influenced his work for years to come.

In 1993, Wallace moved to Illinois to take a teaching position and would publish “Infinite Jest” in 1996. Wallace, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that same year, spoke openly about his struggles in Syracuse and his personal battle with depression, noting that it was an extremely difficult time for him. Wallace struggled internally for most of his adult life, a battle that ultimately caused him to take his own life in 2008.

A drawing of Wallace hangs in the Co-op

One can imagine that Wallace would have visited the adjacent Co-op often while living in Syracuse. Actually, if you look up while walking through the store, you will see a illustration of Wallace hanging in aisle one.

The picture was hung about five years ago by General Manager, Jeremy DeChario, who has been with the store for the last seven years. DeChario said he put the picture up after hearing the story of Wallace’s time in Syracuse.

The Co-op is cooperatively owned by 3,000+ members who pay a one-time fee and elect the Board of Directors. Since 1994, the store has been open to the public for anyone to shop at. The store provides whole, local and organic foods delivering an assortment of products including vegan, vegetarian and gluten free foods. The Co-op also provides a warm and friendly environment full of knowledgeable staff, many of which DeChario says live within walking and biking distance from the store – creating a large sense of community.

The Co-op is open seven days a week from 8:00am to 9:00pm. For more information you can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit their website by clicking here.

  • Zachary Cameron

    Interesting article! However, in the title, why not call the co-op what it is: “our local food co-op”, instead of calling it a “grocery store” which it’s not.