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During a town hall meeting concerning the fate of a local supermarket, New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, proffered that “white people don’t eat the same way we do.”

The Key Food on Lafayette Avenue between Saint James Place and Classon Avenue is set to close within the next two months in order to make way for an eight-story residential building. The landlord said he will try to bring a supermarket back once the project is finished, and state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Clinton Hill) demanded he make sure he finds an operator that will continue serving neighbors of color, who she claimed have different grocery needs than whites.

“Supermarkets are an important part of the community. It’s an important amenity, especially for black and brown communities,” she said. “When you’re talking about a white community, it can be a little boutique, because white people don’t eat the way we do.”

Montgomery has since walked her comments back, (no kidding!) saying that she was simply not as articulate as she should have been.  According to Montgomery, she was trying to make a comment about the effects of gentrification in the neighborhood.  Montgomery worries that after closing the Key Food, the property owners may bring in a store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, which would be fine for (rich) white people, but would price her elderly, black constituents out of the market.  (Of course, nothing would prevent them from going to the Associated market two blocks away, or another market four blocks away, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

During the Town hall meeting, property owner Richard Grobman expressed sympathy with the community members who had gathered to express their concerns.


“We certainly appreciate that a supermarket is important to the neighborhood here. And we are endeavoring to have a supermarket here in the final development,” he said. “We’re not obligated to, but we’re certainly trying. I can’t guarantee it though.”

It is in his interest to give the people what they want, he said.

“I hope that I’m smart enough to choose an operator that can provide the community what it needs,” he said. “Because if I don’t, I’m going to have a big vacant store.”

By the way, the new development will include 110 new apartments – 1/5th of which will be low income housing, retail space, and parking.

You can read the entire story here.

There are a couple issues here. The first, of course, is the rather inept (and some would say bigoted) statement by Montgomery.  Having lived for 10 years in a community neighboring Clinton Hill, I can assure her that both Black and white folk shop for and eat similar food. But I take Montgomery at her word.  I find it difficult to believe that anyone could be so silly.  Except that the 100 or so community members gathered there agreed with her.  But for their race, they reasoned, the Key Food would still be there.  In other words, if this were a white community, Gobman would have left ALL THAT MONEY on the table, because, well, white people are just that devious and sneaky…and apparently that inexpert at business, which makes one wonder why how in the world they have all the money.  maybe people are that silly.

The next issue is the idea, expressed by Montgomery and local city council members, that somehow a private property owner should get permission from the government to do with his property what he wants. And let’s not fool ourselves, this is less about beneficence and more about power.  There are two grocery stores within walking distance from this location.  There is no rule that says people should have a grocery store right outside their front door.  in addition, should a Whole foods market or Trader Joe’s enter the space, they would not be able to exact prices from a neighborhood unable to pay them.  That they would be able to be successful in that location suggests that there are more customers able to pay than unable to pay. So, is the issue really about keeping ones voters right where one would know were to find them?

Witness Montgomery demanding that he put in the type of tenant the SHE wants. And then there was the threat from a local council woman.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill) said the process is broken.

“I’m baffled that you don’t know more about what this project entails,” she said. “We’re working everyday in the Council to transform the legislation that makes a development like this possible.”

James had a different take.

“He owns private property, and he’s saying, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want with it,’ ” she said. “We don’t live in a communist country. This is capitalism.”

Here is a Leftist on the city council, who believes that SHE and not the property owner, should decide what is best not only for the property owner, but for the people of a community in which she does not live.  Absurd!

The rationale for such tyranny, is the third issue: The idea that communities should remain unchanged, that the upgrading of communities through market forces (as opposed to central planning) is somehow evil. Wrong on both counts.

The fact that a community has been one way for any length of time does not make it immune from the forces of the market or of father time.  This is the type of thinking that once said to Black people, Jews, and other minorities, “you are not welcome in this community!” What is more, there is a real lack of vision as to how the upgrading of a community, while bad for some members, is good – very good – for other members of the community.

Park Slope, my old neighborhood is a perfect example.  I moved to Park Slope in 1983. At the time, Park Slope was a middle class neighborhood, nothing fancy.  The streets were quiet and the prices were cheap.  Over the years, seventh ave, transformed from a strip crowded with dive bars, to an avenue of nice restaurants, new shops, and an upgrade from the nasty associated grocery store to an upscale and clean dagastino’s.  The seventh ave strip also extended past past ninth street and eventually worked its way to 16th street.  As the neighborhood grew, these changes extended to the other avenues as well.  The changes brought in people eager to live in the neighborhood. As people flooded the neighborhood, the rent increased, building owners upgraded their buildings in order to change the apartments into co-ops. Real estate brokers descended to sell the new apartments to eager buyers.  Apartment dwellers, were able to purchase apartments at a price below market…You get the point.  But were it up to folks like Cumbo and Montgomery, these economic benefits, which extended to both the city and to local citizens would have gone by the way side. Of course, Cumbo and Montgomery could have then boasted that they had saved the neighborhood from gentrification.

About Author

Joseph C. Phillips

Joseph C. Phillips was born on January 17, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, USA as Joseph Connor Phillips. He is an actor, known for General Hospital (1994), The Cosby Show (1984) and Strictly Business (1991). He has been married to Nicole since 1994. They have three children.

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