Gentrification Gets Personal: Best Yet Market Moves to Harlem

Gentrification is something most black people look down on—at least publicly, anyway. But how about when gentrification hits close to home?

Then it’s a different story.

Obviously, McDonald’s and Starbucks don’t move into neighborhoods where they don’t think they will make money off the people that live there. So while many of us rant and rave about the ugliness of gentrification and the consequences of it, many of us, myself included, fail to stand up against it with our wallets when buying our cheeseburgers and sipping on our lattes.

Of course, I’m not a big fan of lattes, and McDonald’s cheeseburgers don’t exactly appeal to these glorified taste buds of mine that I call a palette. However, food is my calling, so the grocery store is like a second home to me. While, I tend to eat out as often as possible, my interest in not dying of a heart attack requires that I go to the store to balance out my diet. I don’t tend to stack up the fridge, so I wind up going to the store more often than I probably should.

Since moving to Harlem, my store of choice has been the Fine Fare on the corner of 116th and Lenox Avenue (6th Avenue). However, ten days ago, a “Best Yet Market” opened up a little bit closer to me and with a lot more variety and quality in its offerings.

Naturally, I went there during its first weekend in the neighborhood.

And not only did I go there, but this was one of the few occasions when I got enough groceries to fill the fridge. Have in mind that in prior years, my failure to fill the fridge up was because doing so usually required a very long, cumbersome walk from the store, or additional cab fare. Now with Best Yet Market about a block away, it’s easier to move a ton of groceries.

Not to mention, this store has more vegetables, better vegetables, more overall products, hot food offerings and the lines are staggeringly shorter and less and time consuming than the ones at Fine Fare. That said, the prices at Best Yet Market are a lot higher, too. That means Best Yet Market is catering to the ever more gentrified populace invading Central Harlem, and they expect that the presence of their store will only increase the emerging white population in this area, which in turn will increase the number of customers they have.

This is gentrification at its finest.

Best Yet Market is offering more products, better products, and better service, but at higher prices, hoping that its quality will overcome the price-differential between it and neighboring grocery stores. And it will probably work on most people. While Best Yet Market is no Whole Foods, they are clearly better than Fine Fare, and people are realizing that already. I’ve seen Best Yet Market grocery bags out in front of lower-income residences where there are either few or no white people living in the building. And of course, I’ve already noticed fewer overall shoppers at the Fine Fare I usually go to.

Personally, however, I’m not going to transition into a Best Yet shopper. I’m not big on the fluff of the store, and I certainly won’t pay higher prices for the same things I can get at Fine Fare. Granted, I will go there for the things they have that Fine Fare doesn’t. That’s just obvious. But to go there for the sake of going there and paying more money—well, that’s not going to happen.

Let me be clear though; I don’t have some kind of a revolutionary agenda here. This is a matter of economics for me. I guess the real question is, Would I frequent the Best Yet Market if they were pulling a Wal-Mart like approach, offering cheaper prices and better quality? And to that I say, I would sell out so fast it’s not even funny.

Look, gentrification isn’t really all that bad. Do I like its intended consequences of displacing people, culture and history?

Of course not!

But this is how the world works.

The alternative to gentrification is being stagnant. Harlem is not the budding conurbation it once was in the middle of the 20th century. And while many love the resounding culture, historical architecture and creative people of this area, a lot of that translates into drugs, violence, shoddy buildings and an unemployment rate that is much higher than the rest of the city. And those problems subsist while much of the rest of Manhattan has sprouted new buildings and new business over the past 60 years, and it just continues to grow more and more while increasing the value of the city.

I recognize gentrification won’t fix all of the problems that Harlem inhabitants have, and that many people will just continue to have the same problems in whatever neighborhoods they are forced to migrate to when they are forced out of their homes. But maybe people don’t have to be displaced. If we embrace gentrification for the run away freight train that it is, then perhaps it can be on our side. Much in the same way America embraced immigration early on in its existence, Harlem can grow to be better than it ever was if it takes the proper steps to reel in the economic forces trying to consume Harlem.

So while I won’t become a card-carrying member of Best Yet Market, I do think that the area needs more Best Yet Markets, as well as Starbucks, McDonald’s and many other things. Of course, if we stand in front of the gentrification movement, it doesn’t have to be those exact stores taking this area over. Instead of McDonald’s, we could have another Sylvia’s. Instead of Starbucks, there could be a new YMCA. Whatever it is, gentrification is going to happen. If we as Harlem residents want to fight it, we can. But I would much rather embrace it for what it is, and try to make it something of our own.

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