Celebrating Four Decades in the Jungle

Photography by Wes Battoclette

It started as a modest tomato stand on the side of the road and has expanded to an unparalleled grocery shopping experience over the past 40 years. 

Founder Jim Bonaminio, better known as Jungle Jim, opened his Fairfield location in 1975 and his Eastgate location in 2012. Jungle Jim’s International Market is a shopping destination with more than 180,000 products to choose from. 

“When I met Jim (in 1973 he) had a small street market in a very temporary place across from Fisher Body on Route 4 (in Fairfield),” remembers Joani Bonaminio, Jim’s wife of 41 years. “At that point he was selling all of the major produce items – lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, onions, strawberries and so on. On one of our dates, we drove up and down Route 4 to see where he could move to a permanent location. He bought this piece of property one mile south on Route 4 thinking that none of his customers would come. I don’t know if his goal was to have the biggest market in the world, in the country or in the region, but he had an intention and he just did it.  

“It has really been a privilege to watch a vision come true. When we were first married living in a trailer in Hamilton, he asked me what my dream was. I told him that I’d always wanted to be a ballerina. He encouraged me to do it, so I started taking classes as an adult at 22-years-old. His (dream) had always been to create something that had never existed before – I don’t know what he was seeing in his head, but he always wanted to have these animals outside and he always wanted to have a monorail. It’s luck and preparation in many ways, but hard work is really what made it happen.”   

Joani has been by her husband’s side throughout the highs and lows of owning Jungle Jim’s International Market.

“Jim is a visionary – in a very quiet kind of way. He’s willing to make it happen – if you can dream it, you can do it – is his mentality,” says Joani. “I don’t know where his inspiration comes from, but I know he is inspired by a lot of different things. We could be driving down the road and see bamboo and he’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to come back here to grab that and put it in front of my store!’ I mean who puts palm trees in front of their property in Ohio? Who sells international food in the middle of Fairfield? Who does these things? Who puts a reception hall over a grocery store?

“It’s like the ‘Field of Dreams’: if you build it they will come. It’s all about hard work and surrounding yourself with good people.” 

Jungle Jim’s International Market has 107 employees who have been with the company for 10 years or more. Jessie Baumer is one of a handful who have been with the store for 40 years or more. 

“I was a stay-at-home-mom, I wasn’t even looking for a job. I was with my sister-in-law and we ran into Jungle. He said, ‘Do you ladies want a job?’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I want a job.’ I was just kidding, though, because I thought he was. He realized that I thought he was kidding so he told me that he was serious – I could work as much or as little as I wanted. So that was that,” recalls Baumer. 

She accepted the job to make extra money for Christmas and eventually took time off to have a baby. “Randy was 5 weeks old and I got a call from Jungle – ‘Hey Jessie, what are you doing?’ I told him that I wasn’t really doing anything. He asked if I would come in because Joani was up to her eyes in strawberries. I did and I’ve been here ever since.

“I’ve always enjoyed working here and the people I work with. It’s like one big family.”  

Jungle Jim’s International Market is not only making a difference in the lives of its employees, but in the community as well. Kert Radel, president of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, has seen firsthand the difference Jungle Jim’s International Market has made in the city and the region. 

“It benefits not only Fairfield, but it benefits the entire region because it has a tremendous impact economically. It is a true destination,” says Radel. “For example, I was talking to a couple this morning who have been coming to Jungle Jim’s for a long time. They had relatives come to visit yesterday and their first stop today was Jungle Jim’s – that’s a destination. Jungle Jim’s puts the city of Fairfield and the region on the map.”

Radel and his family have been shopping at Jungle Jim’s for 19 years. Radel returns again and again because of the tremendous selection, excellent customer service and general layout of the store. 

“I grew up in the grocery business, so I can recognize a store that is well laid out, easy to find the product and has excellent customer service,” says Radel. “I can’t wait to bring my 3-year-old grandson here because he’s just going to have a trip, because it’s a family place to shop.”  

“Jim has really come a long way over the years,” says Tom Kornylak, a longtime customer. “I started shopping at Jim’s stand because I’m a bargain hunter and I love the art of the deal. It’s a destination and I think it will continue to be successful.” 

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jungle Jim’s International Market, Joani and a committee of employees threw a weeklong celebration for the staff, customers and the citizens of Fairfield and Eastgate.

The one-of-a-kind event took place August 17-21 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at both locations. Customers enjoyed demonstrations, giveaways, food trucks, fireworks and more. The community, vendors and customers joined together to make the milestone a special celebration. 

Jungle Jim’s Fairfield is located at 5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, OH 45014. You can email them at fairfieldcomments@junglejims.com.

Jungle Jim’s Eastgate is located at 4450 Eastgate South Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45245. You can email them at eastgatecomments@junglejims.com

You can reach either location at 513.674.6000 or visit their website at www.junglejims.com.