International flavor: Big Basket Market in North Amherst filling shelves with Indian, Arabic and Asian food

  • Lillian Gordon, from left, Aleyda Rivera and Chris Nelson shop on the first day the Big Basket Market was open in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Big Basket Market in Amherst, an international grocery store on its first day open. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Raeesha Riswan helps customer Lillian Gordon pick items in the newly opened international grocery called Big Basket Market in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Akshaya Pawar, a customer at the Big Basket Market, holds a bag of whole Turmeric used for religious ceremonies. "I am excited , I have been waiting for a month for the store to open," said Pawar who lives close by. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Customer Akshaya Pawar holds a bag of whole turmeric used for religious ceremonies. “I am excited — I have been waiting for a month for the store to open,” she said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Nelson shops on the first day the Big Basket Market was open in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Monday, August 08, 2022

AMHERST — On the first day an international grocery store was open in the Mill District in North Amherst this week, Akshaya Pawar located a package of turmeric.

“This was an unexpected find,” Pawar said while examining the package containing whole pieces of turmeric. She explained that she could boil the turmeric in milk or water for use in Hindu religious ceremonies.

Pawar, who also picked up a package of almond cake rusks, said she had been waiting excitedly for the past month for the arrival of Big Basket Market, appreciating that such a store would be so close to home, rather her having to venture to Springfield or other urban areas for Indian food.

The store at 19 Montague Road, in the Riverside Park shopping plaza, is being run by an Amherst family originally from Sri Lanka.

“A little bit of everything,” is how Khaalid Rizwan explains what the store, in planning for the past year, will offer. His father, Riswan Raufdeen, also co-owns the more conventional Amherst Market convenience store on Triangle Street.

With hopes that COVID-19 is beginning to fade, and that a growing number of international students are continuing to study at the University of Massachusetts, Rizwan said the family wanted to be open in the weeks leading up to the new school year.

“We want to be a center for international students, and many foods from around the world,” Rizwan said.

There is also hope that, through relationships it has with vendors, Big Basket Market will have a more diverse selection and better prices than its customers may be accustomed to, with spices, rice, noodles and beans all available in bulk.

“For college students we want to have a good price because, at the end of the day, they’re college students,” Rizwan said.

The main sign elaborates on what is inside the store, explaining that it offers Indian, Arabic and Asian food, and all types of international groceries, as well as food that’s Halal-certified.

Many of the snacks, Rizwan said, people may not be able to find locally, including Khari biscuits and sweet Arabic dates, and a pani puri kit to make fully puffed puri with chutney and pani puri concentrate.

Within hours of the store’s 8 a.m. opening, filling a vacant spot that was long occupied by Captain Video before its closure in 2015, customers began browsing the shelves and freezers, which are not yet full. The family, however, will be taking recommendations.

“Let us know what you need and we’ll order it for you,” Rizwan said as one customer inquired about a particular product.

So far, one aisle is filled primarily with Indian foods, including spices, instant mixes, curry powder, masala and turmeric powder, while another aisle’s shelves are mostly South Korean, with tea powder, Korean barbecue sauce short rib, seaweed, spicy noodles, soy sauce, chili oil with soybean and shahe dried rice noodle.

The store also has conventional American snacks and pastries, boxes of macaroni and cheese, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and refrigerators with drinks and freezers with prepackaged items. Other shelves have basic necessities, including shampoos and soaps.

Big Basket Market will be open until 9:30 p.m. each day except Sundays, when it closes at 8 p.m., and will also be offering a delivery service to homes.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones, who oversees the commercial aspects of the Mill District, said welcoming the international market is part of a concept of curating diverse retail shops for the neighborhood, which includes both large apartment complexes and single-family homes.

“Big Basket Market opening ... is a significant step toward our dream of becoming a gourmet food destination with several niche grocery options,” Jones said.

The store supplements other businesses in the plaza,including Cumberland Farms, Big Guy Liquors and Amherst House of Pizza, as well as the new businesses continuing to arrive in the section of the Mill District along Cowls Road. The latest announced new tenant is Futura Coffee Roasters, which will be opening later this year or in early 2023.

Futura is led by local partner Vic Scutari of Leverett, who is working with Colombian founding partners Sebastian Villamizar and Felipe Sardi, representatives of Equation Coffee Exporters and Libertario Coffee Roasters. Futura, which also has a location in Portland, Oregon, aims to support regenerative agriculture projects in South America and in the region.

“After years of working with companies in large cities, it’s amazing to have the opportunity to be part of a local project and bring our vision of coffee to my home,” Scutari said in a statement.

Amherst designer Sarah Ettelman is helping to build out the space, which will be situated next to a special occasion Cakery serving both people and dogs.

Meanwhile, Provisions, which took over space used by Atkins Farms’ satellite store in 2020 for its second location of wines and fine foods, will move across the square, with its space in the Cow Barn building to be renovated into a brewpub.

Other businesses that have already opened in the new commercial development include Balanced Birch Pilates and Gyrotonics, The Closet, Graze Craze, The Mill District General Store and Local Art Gallery, and The Lift Salon.