Jungle Jim's International Market

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Before there was Sam's Club or Costco, before Whole Foods or Wild Oats, there was Jungle Jim's International Market, a surreal outpost of food and fun on the north side of Cincinnati.

The business first opened as a roadside market in Fairfield in 1974 (beating Sam by nine years). It has since grown into a sprawling, six-acres-under-one-roof establishment and is famous in foodie circles for its low prices on everyday, domestically produced groceries and a breathtaking array of fare from international locales. If you've got some serious shopping to do for Easter or Passover, this would be a great place to go.

The market is also wildly entertaining for its decor, which is what makes it a great family-fun destination. Literally around every corner is something that elicits an ooh, an ahh or a belly laugh.

A life-size replica of the S.S. Minnow (from Gilligan's Island fame) at the seafood counter? It's flanked by a multitude of live-fish tanks that kids will enjoy peering into. A fake outhouse done up in King Henry VIII style that you can take your picture in? Right next door to the "award winning restrooms," whose doors look like entrances to porto-potties.

There's a replica of a treasure-laden tree interior from Sherwood Forest (in the British Isles aisle, naturally) that you walk under to view. And there are animatronic figures playing music all over the place.

Probably my favorite visual joke was over in the Biopond area where live fish are cultivated. As I stood on the platform peering down into those tanks, I glanced over and noticed other tanks in the shadows.

Printed on one of them in faux-Cyrillic lettering were the words "Chernobyl Nuclear Facility." It takes a lot to make me LOL, but that did it.

Now be forewarned that Jungle Jim's is not a playground for kids. It's more of a "strap 'em into the shopping cart and let them ogle their surroundings" destination, which, if you combine it with a trip to Cincinnati's Zoo, the Newport Aquarium or even King's Island, might be about all they need for the couple of hours it will take you to navigate the store.

One suggestion that a friend had is to devise a scavenger hunt for the kids. Ask for a map at the entrance (the greeters are very friendly): It has drawings of all the unusual sites in the store. Then let the kids shout out when they see them and mark them on the map. When they find everything, circle back to the Candy Spot (with Elvis the Singing Lion) and let them pick out a treat.

Jungle Jim's International Market

5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield



Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Tips: Tours are available by reservation but probably wouldn't keep the attention of young children. You could make a meal of the food samples, but there are also food counters and restaurants on site (including a sushi bar, sub shop and Starbucks). There are also family-friendly cooking classes monthly (reservations required).