Let’s start off by saying that finding a decent supermarket in New York is like finding a needle in a haystack — regardless of how much money you make or where you live. However, it is no secret to the lower class citizens living in certain neighborhoods, like Harlem and parts of Brooklyn, that the quality of the food in the few supermarkets that exist are paltry at best.
When I lived in pre-gen Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, there was one very dark and disgusting Met supermarket around the corner from my apartment. The next closest store was quite a few blocks away. Eventually, the Pathmark at Restoration Plaza and Atlantic Terminal opened. While they weren’t convenient, they did offer a better selection than the little mom and pop (rodent infested) grocery stores in the neighborhood.
As the neighborhood began to change, so did the offerings in the local neighborhood supermarkets. Suddenly soy milk and organic offerings were making appearances where whole milk and greasy processed food once reigned. You can tell someone who has no background with struggling communities because they will be the first to tell you that “poor” folk don’t like to buy healthy food. Strange that the whole wheat bread and soy milk tend to fly off the shelves in the “minority” neighborhoods — blame it on the lactose intolerance many people of color tend to suffer from.
When I moved to Harlem I was a little concerned about the supermarket situation. There were three small chains near my apartment when I moved in. Shortly thereafter a brand new Pathmark opened and for a while it was relatively decent. Then the smaller stores started to raise prices, renovate and even close. This drove more traffic to the Pathmark which eventually also went down hill.
I regularly see residents traveling by subway with bags of Whole Foods (set to open on 97th Street next year) and Trader’s Joe’s coming up from 14th Street. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. The New York Times reports:
In East Harlem, six small supermarkets have closed, and two more are on the brink, local officials said. In some cases, the old storefronts have been converted to drug stores that stand to make money coming and going — first selling processed foods and sodas, then selling medicines for illnesses that could have been prevented by a better diet.
The supermarket closings — not confined to poor neighborhoods — result from rising rents and slim profit margins, among other causes. They have forced residents to take buses or cabs to the closest supermarkets in some areas. Those with cars can drive, but the price of gasoline is making some think twice about that option. In many places, residents said the lack of competition has led to rising prices in the remaining stores.
I guess the fact of the matter is that people in New York City shouldn’t even be concerned with grocery stores since the fallacy is that we all eat out every night in fancy restaurants, served by the country’s top chefs. Besides, with the advent of services like FreshDirect who even needs to set foot in a grocery store these days?
I’m curious to know what your personal experience has been on the grocery front in New York. Does your neighborhood have enough stores? Are the stores in your neighborhood clean and well-stocked? Do you have a nice selection of fresh foods and produce in your local store? Drop your thoughts into the comments section.
Related: The Lost Supermarket: A Breed in Need [NYT]