The package-free grocery store opened downtown in May and supports the neurodivergent community through inclusive employment
By Renee Ambroso|Photography by John Michael Simpson
Nobody will ask you “paper or plastic?” at Part & Parcel. Instead, simply pick up a Bull City Boomerang Bag cloth tote, which customers are welcome to borrow and reuse, and start checking items off your grocery list from the rows of glass canisters and bulk bins that hold a rainbow of dry goods like dehydrated carrots, chocolate-covered pretzels, Caballo Rojo Coffee beans and organic French green lentils. On another side of the store, metal jugs house olive oil and vinegars near a Fillaree lotion and soap refill station, handmade Ask the Trees utensils and home cleaning supplies.
Part & Parcel opened at 600 B Foster St. on May 12, 2021. Tucked between Kotuku Surf Club and Ellen Cassilly Architect, the storefront’s dove gray-and-white exterior is cheerfully interrupted by a sunny yellow door. The store employs neurodivergent people, striving “to be a model of inclusive employment,” says T Land, a former teacher who is the founder and executive director of the Autism Support and Advocacy Center and owner of Part & Parcel. T spent eight years offering summer programs to children, from preschoolers to recent high school grads, but wanted to do more to fill the gaps in support for young people after they graduated. T envisioned an extension of the center that could offer employment for the neurodivergent community while serving “to show the strength of that neurodiversity in the workplace.”
A grocery store presented the right platform: a space that’s at the heart of a community, where people visit regularly. They decided that the store would operate with a low-waste model to help mitigate environmental issues in the community and divert trash from landfills.
“Sustainability” is a word that might get overused in our collective vernacular, T says, “but it really is a perfect word for what we do here,” both in providing comprehensive support to employees and from an environmental standpoint.
A closed-loop system, in which the delivery packaging of the shop’s goods is cleaned and reused, helps to cut down on the trash produced by the more than 40 local businesses that stock the shelves. “I’ll never call us a zero waste store, I think that’s actually impossible,” T says, but perfection isn’t the point.
Customers shop using their own containers of any type or size, or have the option to use recycled glass jars that are collected, sanitized and provided by Don’t Waste Durham – as of mid-November 2021, 4,260 jars have passed through the store in total – and dry goods are sold by weight. T laughs as they share the story of a friend who ordered trail mix online but misjudged the measurement and ended up with just a handful of nuts. “It’s hard to visualize how much an ounce of basil would be,” they say, and so they recommend starting with a food or item you’re familiar with to get a sense of how much to order online, or ask for help when shopping in person.
Jonah Sanville, who’s worked behind the counter nearly the entire time the shop has been open, is often on hand to assist customers with their questions or to teach them how to weigh ingredients. “I started working when I was 19,” Jonah says. “I think I’ve had 13 jobs, and this is the first job I’ve had where I’ve felt fully accepted. … My disabilities are just acknowledged and accepted.”
Most schools and businesses are “not designed for neurodiversity, and I think that limits the health of them,” T explains. At Part & Parcel, employees are offered a welcoming space to bring their full identities to work and can let go of the idea that worth is based solely on one’s level of productivity and independence. T says there’s the chance for a workplace to be “more creative, more innovative, more passionate when there is a range of neurotypes coming together to do the work.”
T says that future goals include moving to a larger space, adding a refrigerated section and forming partnerships with farms to provide fresh produce. They also hope to expand partnerships like the one the store has with West End Community Foundation, a nonprofit working to improve quality of life for residents in Durham’s West End neighborhood, where Part & Parcel hosts a free market.
The center is also ramping up programming again, now that Part & Parcel is running smoothly. It will offer a panel of adults with autism speaking on a number of different topics; community-based discussions about ableism, autism, gender and race; and possibly classes on finance management or cooking for neurodivergent people. Jonah is working on creating a course for other business owners and employers to learn about inclusivity.
So far, the community’s response has only been positive. “So many people are excited we’re here,” T says.