The First Casualties of Gentrification

I suspect that the first real consequences of the gentrification of Columbia Heights are starting to hit Mount Pleasant. I was walking home tonight when I noticed that the Mount Pleasant Super Market was closed with the usual signs up in the windows. A peep through the grates revealed ransacked, bare shelves. My personal favorite grocery store, the Super Save Market has been locked up tight for probably two weeks now, but with no explanation and all the merchandise untouched — suggestive of a landlord locking them out rather than an orderly loosing of the lease.

I have to wonder when the International Progresso Market, Los Primos and the Samber Market are next. All three appear to be just barely hanging on.

The survivor will probably be BestWay which irritates the hell out of me. It’s the biggest of the grocery stores in the neighborhood, but also the most inadequate. First of all, they close way too early. Since the Super Save Market closed I have redirected to BestWay, but am already reminded why the Super Save Market was my favorite. About two thirds of the time that I head over to BestWay I find them closed. And they keep on ratcheting the hours down. It used to be that they closed at 9:00, but the floors were already mopped, the place stinking of whatever foul substance they put in their mop buckets and someone at the door trying to intimidate you from entering at 8:50. So they recently made the closing time 8:50. But everyone has adjusted accordingly. Now the place is mopped and you’re not welcome at 8:40. I frequently don’t even leave the office until 8:30. A grocery store that closes at 8:40 is a store at which I will never shop.

And then there is BestWay’s strange monomania regarding stock. BestWay is the one most like what most people think of when they think grocery store. Most of the stores in Mount Pleasant are weird hodgepodges of products heavily skewed toward the ethnicities of the neighborhood piled on improvised and mismatched shelves in a shop that doesn’t even approach ADA standards. There is a lot of minding your manners, jostling and backing down an isle only wide enough for one. BestWay is large, well stocked and has enough space for people to pass in the isles. But it’s only well-ish stocked. They have most things you would want and offer variety in nearly all product categories, but for some reason never vary the products according to the factors that matter. In the canned vegetable isle they devote a couple of feet on two shelves to tomatoes. That’s quite a lot of tomatoes — as would be expected as people eat a lot of tomatoes. But it’s all a couple of different brands of only 28 oz. cans of whole stewed tomatoes; no 14.5 oz. cans and no diced or sliced. Who makes anything with whole tomatoes? There are like five different brands of catsup — Heinz, Hunts, Del Monte, RichFood, Value Brand — but only in small bottles. But for some reason they carry vinegar in industrial quantities.

As this list may suggest, Mount Pleasant is an over-groceried neighborhood and maybe overdo for a shakeup. It’s a tiny nook of the city with multiple grocery stores in which the norm is huge residential tracts without a grocery store for miles.

I just hope Samber Market isn’t next. It has become my late night fallback now that Super Save Market is closed. It is run by an older Japanese couple and I go there because they are both so overwhelmingly pleasant. They are both very good looking, always dressed like they consider their job at the till to be very serious work, and seemingly happy to see me every time. The man holds up each item as he rings them up and gets a certain look of pride at each one — especially a bottle of wine — like he were serving the community and providing for his family with each sale. Often a boy, I presume their grandson, but maybe their son — they could go either way — is in the store roller-skating laps or climbing the taller shelves way too rambunctiously, but unimpeded by his grandparents.

They must sleep in the stock room on top of pallets of Top Ramen given the expense of living in D.C. Hopefully they’ll survive the winnowing. Hopefully this won’t end up another neighborhood without a grocery store.

Update, 27 January 2008: Yep, it’s confirmed. I walked past the Super Save Market on Friday night and there was a notice up from the D.C. Tenant Court saying that the tenant was in arrears $14,000. They had been making all sorts of upgrades to the store lately and I thought it was because they were finally making a bit of a success of themselves. I guess that it was actually some last ditch gamble to attract more business. The tragedy is that the fancy new shelves probably cost a month’s rent.

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