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A Jungle in Ohio?

,For two years, 1989 -1991, I lived in Fairfield, OH which is a little north of Cincinnati. Odd place for a jungle, but yet, this jungle was but a few miles from my home. Jungle Jim's International Marketplace became my gold standard for what a grocery should be.

At the time, the market was 45,000 square feet of regular grocery items, but included the hallmark of fresh produce...twenty-nine cents a pound for the best bananas anywhere. One of the even bigger draws was the international section. You were exposed to food from all over the world.

One of the best things was the animatronic lion Elvis impersonator.

I loved the place. Then we moved to California.

Ten years later I returned.

What was a cool place for food, was now over six acres...a veritable amusement park for foodies. Jungle Jim's is considered a top tourist destination must see attraction. Not only did the produce section take a huge leap in space, but now, includes literally a humongous international section, a deli that makes many products in house (including fresh mozzarella), fresh sushi, olive bar, bakery, fish farm, cooking school, cooking products, organic, holistic, hot sauce heaven, AND one of the largest collection of wine and beer in the U.S.

Want to try wine from Argentina? He's got it. Want a wine to impress any sommelier? He's got it. Craft beer? Yep. International beer?

Cigar store? Yep. Toothpaste?

One could easily spend two-three hours in the store, as well as the additional time in the shops outside of the store

Owner Jim Bonaminio has about as humble beginnings as could be. He started earning money at age six, and never stopped. The fascinating story of how it all began is told in a small theater in the store.

Why a jungle? Well, the outside of the store is a sanctuary for life-sized statues of jungle animals, compete with the calls of the wilds.

With the success of the Fairfield store, Bonaminio opened another location on the east side of Cincinnati.

Now I live two hours away from Fairfield, but two to three times a year, we hop in the car, bring an empty cooler and explore the jungle once again.

Take a camera and bring home the tee shirt. Oh, and bananas are still often twenty-nine cents a pound.

One more thing. Elvis is still in the building.

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