Where have all the good bloodsucking corporations gone? Last month we learned that our beloved grocery store (the one very near my lovely, sunny apartment) was sold to a Walgreens. I learned this from one of the cashiers, a familiar teenager with long black hair and creamy caramel skin who was always a little aloof with me. As she rung up my diapers and box of Oreos, some toothpaste and a jug of milk —for the Oreos, milk’s favorite cookie — she leaned over and whispered, Hey, did you hear the Key Food is closing? I did a double take on the information, letting my mouth drop open, and groaned. Was this some sort of cruel joke she was playing on me? The frazzled mom who always argued with her son about buying a stick on tattoo from the vending machine.
The next few days would prove that this was not, in fact, some kind of belated April Fools prank, but was reality. When we decided to move to Windsor Terrace, this grocery stores proximity to our prospective apartment was a huge draw for us, newcomers to the Big City, and all. We felt safe with all that food and bathroom supplies across the street. Comforted that if we wanted a half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s after our son went to bed we could pop over easily and get it. Secure in the knowledge when it was blazin’ hot outside we could go stand in the freezer section for relief. This was all true for us, but overall, our plight is nothing in comparison to the longtime residents of the neighborhood.
This neighborhood is home to a lot of young families, but even more elderly residents, as well as a slew of independent businesses. The Key Food, for all intents and purposes, was the only supermarket in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood packed with people dependent on that fact. I personally do not own a car, and am now being graciously carted to a grocery in Red Hook by my wonderful neighbor. My landlord’s parents live next door to us. They’re a lovely Italian couple in their 70s. They don’t drive, and aren’t in a position where they can walk down to 7th and Carroll St. to buy their groceries (then pay to have them delivered, and haul the perishables home.) The grocery gave them, and countless others, independence sorely needed and an ability to fend for themselves with dignity.
As I watch all of this unfold before my eyes, still a relative outsider in a neighborhood built by blue bloods, it pains me to see the lack of respect and consideration coming from this major corporation for the people they expect to patronize their store. Their unwillingness to comply with the simple request for a grocery section has shown their hand, and they’re already cheating. Where I come from, large pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS have food, wine and beer, along with aisles of shampoo and cough syrup.
In an online petition, written by one of the local business owners in Windsor Terrace, she goes so far as to tell Walgreens, “Don’t come here, we won’t buy from you.” And that is true. Many local residents have put signs in their windows that simply say: Boycott Walgreens. Others attended a rally at the Key Food shell where Walgreens reps discouraged further the idea that this neighborhood, and all the wonderfully weird people who live here, will not be seeing an ounce of sway on their part.
This little neighborhood war is a tragic statement, not only about this corporation, but about the thoughtless man who sold his grocery to a pharmacy. A man who made his money on the people of this neighborhood and then gave all of them the middle finger. Maybe that middle finger points to the real issue, the picture this paints for us a people. We talk a big game about respect, culture, and human equality in New York City, but we can’t get it right on a basic level. We can’t hear. This neighborhood has asked that they be heard. And Walgreens is choosing not to listen.
There is a real need in Windsor Terrace for a grocery. That need will exist whether Walgreens wants it to or not. Do I believe we’ll eventually let it go? Sure, some will, but others — those with deep roots here — are shaken where they live. Talking to neighbors on my block, many over sixty years old, the downturn in their eyes and the confusion is what registers most. And what about the fifty people now put out of jobs? The poor Walgreens CEO and Multimillionaire Key Food owner will say it’s just business, I get it. And maybe that’s true. But if they want to make money, they better start listening.