Gentrification on Aisle Nine…

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.


Filed under gentrification

6 responses to “Gentrification on Aisle Nine…

  1. DCMart

    The entry of a new competitor into any market should be a harbinger of lower prices and better service for all. For the one less able to compete, this usually signals an end: a shift. Stagnation and an unwillingness to change is probably the reason these people will be pushed out of their “affordable” lifestyles. Sorry, shift happens.

  2. Joy the Baker

    You paint a very interesting picture of Shaw. Urban Safeway? I didn’t think it was possible to make a Safeway hip and modern! How is it going with your camera buying? I hope you have fun with your friend in town. Make some yummy treats!

  3. HomeImprovementNinja

    The new Giant in Columbia Heights is pretty sweet. Much better than the Safeways in Dupont (The Soviet Safeway…blech!) or the one on Colmubia Road. But I’ve seen that Giant in Shaw, and I can see why people hate to buy stuff there…except for crack.

  4. DC Newbie

    Joy – I’m not sure how hip or urban this Safeway will be, but I am just glad to have another grocery store option. I have selected a Canon Powershot G7, which is on its way to me now! So hopefully you will see a marked improvement in my pictures soon!

    Homeimprovementninja – To say that the Shaw Giant leaves a lot to be desired is an understatement. Trust me, I’m counting down to the Urban Safeway’s grand opening!

  5. trouble

    your assessment of the situation is overly simplistic. you seem to view the situation solely through the eyes of the gentrifier without attempting to understand the complexities of gentrification or its impact on the long-standing, existing residents.

    if you feel you are ‘braving the gentrification of Shaw’ (a quote from ‘Hello Lovah’), why live there at all? your contempt/disdain for the neighborhood and its inhabitants is fairly obvious.

  6. DC Newbie

    Trouble –

    I am fully aware of the complexities surrounding the issue of gentrification and this post was in no way meant to provide a full outline of this topic. My field of research was in urban/neighborhood revitalization, so yes, I know this issue from both angles.

    Shaw is full of very nice, wonderful people, both long standing residents and the newer arrivals. There are, however, some residents who make a bad name for Shaw. This includes the O Street Gang, who have been responsible for a number of shootings and homicides literally up the street from my home. It also includes: the men who have attempted to grab me inappropriately as I walk to and from work; the VERY FEW teenagers who have stolen wallets, purses, bikes and patio furniture (among many other things) from the neighborhood; and the drug dealers who I have seen selling on a street corner literally three blocks from a school.

    I have actively been involved in various groups in Shaw that are trying to bring together the old and new residents to help heal the strife caused by gentrification. Shaw is a wonderful neighborhood full of incredibly friendly, caring people (both longtime and new residents) who just want to make the neighborhood a safe and vibrant community for residents and children to live.

    This post was about the options currently available to us as far as grocery stores (which are not good) and the options that will soon be available. It’s also about how some residents (and these are just SOME) who are resisting new options for the wrong reasons (i.e. racial issues). Being African-American, I really want to see these tensions especially eased.

    I never professed to be providing an in depth review of gentrification through this blog. It was simply a look at the options currently in Shaw and how they fail to provide quality service to ALL of it’s residents.

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