Harlem’s Supermarket Sweep

A recent article in Crain’s reminded us about a post we wrote a few years ago bemoaning the dire state of Harlem’s supermarkets. In 2009, CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien shocked many  of her viewers when she exposed Harlem’s dirty secret about being able to buy a gun easier than buying a fresh tomato in the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me to go to buy a tomato or vegetables in general, I have to go to 110th Street and Broadway. O’BRIEN (on camera): So a solid 20-some-odd blocks?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or better, because I have to go up and then down. And it’s expensive but it’s worth me going there. But then I have to take a cab or take the bus there and the cab back.

O’BRIEN: How long does that take?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I took the bus, it would take me maybe 35 to 40 minutes to get there and I would have to take a cab back.

O’BRIEN: So you’re telling me it would take you an hour total time?


O’BRIEN: To buy a fresh tomato in the middle of New York City?


Fast forward to 2011.  We can probably all agree that the grocery store situation in Harlem has definitely improved! While there hasn’t been influx of new supermarkets, the addition of Best Yet and Wild Olive, as well as many of the smaller chains changing ownership has been a step in the right direction.

A 2008 New York Times article reported:

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 fact that a new Target and Costco on 116th Street offer fresh produce and dairy is also very encouraging.  Do you think it was simply a matter of supply and demand or the fact that Harlem was virtually shamed into doing better? Leave your comments below.

Get an extra dash of flavor. Like us on Facebook!


3 thoughts on “Harlem’s Supermarket Sweep

  1. There’s always been a demand for supermarkets in Harlem. The problem has been the redlining that has been going on for decades, preventing more supermarkets from opening. I grew up in Harlem, and for at least 15 years we had to walk ten blocks just to get groceries. It wasn’t until a condo was built around the corner from where I lived, that a supermarket finally opened. It has nothing to do with Harlem being “shamed” into doing better. The majority of people who live in Harlem aren’t the ones to make the decisions.

  2. I’d say it’s 50-50. Wild Olive and Best Yet opened in response to the wealthier people who’ve been steadily moving into Harlem the last several years, but I’m sure Ms. O’Brien’s report helped too. I just recently went to Best Yet and while some items are refreshingly cheaper than the local run-of-the-mill supermarkets, other items were way off the charts. And then again, there were also items you wouldn’t find in the lesser markets at ANY price.

    • Yes. One thing we can all agree on is that it is a good thing for Harlem to have better quality supermarkets in the neighborhood. No doubt the health situation is seriously in crisis mode. I see more motorized wheelchairs and scooters than any other part of the city.

Comments are closed.