Considering my love of food and cooking, I am fairly discriminating about where I buy groceries. Although I get most of my produce from my CSA, I still have a need for various other provisions. Unfortunately, I live in Shaw, which really only has one grocery store: Giant. To say this Giant leaves a lot to be desired is an understatement. Not only is the selection less than ideal, the employees act as if they are doing you a favor by checking you out (and let’s not even go into the conversation I overheard between two cashiers about the cheapest place to buy weed). This is why I walk almost 9 blocks to go to Whole Foods. An inconvenience, but at least I get a better selection of produce and other grocery items. Because Giant is the only close grocery store in Shaw, I believe management has no motivation to improve service or selection. This, however, may change soon.
A new mixed use complex is opening up at the corner of 5th and K called City Vista. The complex includes a Busboy and Poets, Results Gym, 5th Street Hardware (from the same people behind Logan Hardware) and the piece de resistance, an Urban Safeway. A new concept in the Safeway chain, the Urban Safeway has been billed as the affordable Whole Foods. The buzz in the neighborhood is that this new store has already started recruiting college students as employees in an attempt to create a more upscale atmosphere.
I run down 5th street on the weekend, so I have been anxiously watching it’s progress (okay, so I press my nose against the glass and cry out “Give me fresh greens”…and then the construction men comment on my ass). I have not once thought of this new grocery store as anything other than a great new option for Shaw residents. However, in line at the Giant tonight (I needed cat food…you try going home to an angry 10 pound cat without any food for her), I overheard this older woman complaining about the impending Safeway. Her exact words: “See, these damn White folks are too good to shop with us, so now they’ve got their new fancy place [said with a mock snooty accent].”
Something as simple as the opening of a new grocery store seems to be a symbol for the more overarching issue of gentrification in Shaw. Many of the more longstanding residents see the grocery store, and the other new restaurants and shops moving into the Shaw area, as a threat to their neighborhood’s identity. As more and more professionals move into Shaw, clashes over its future have increased between the new and the old. In fact, Shaw ANC meetings have made their way onto Youtube because of their contentious nature.
While no one wants to say it, I can tell you that a lot of the old residents are Black, while the new residents are a majority White. The new residents just want better options for their shopping needs, but the Black residents see it as an affront to their sense of self. They’ve shopped at this Giant for years, so why isn’t it good enough for these new (mostly White) residents? They’ve eaten at this same cheap Chinese restaurant for years, why must we have all these exotic new restaurants and “fancy” foods? Why? Because the demographics of the neighborhood are changing, which invariably means a change in the services offered. But no one likes change, especially if it could mean they will be forced out of their affordable housing. Me? I just want a grocery store that doesn’t smell like the outdoor bathrooms after a rock concert.