Changing Grocers: What Does AdTech Have to Do With It?
New York’s continuous march toward gentrification has many victims … including my go-to Murray Hill neighborhood grocers. But was I part of the problem?
The “we’re closed” sign and “thank you” note on the two nearby Gristedes could have been authored by the “The Rent Is Too Damn High” party. The fancy Food Emporium closed — and a fancier Trader Joe’s took its place. D’Agostino’s also took a hiatus in the hood, with more likely to go. Fairway opened its doors … a cavern underground in Kips Bay, filled with folks buying organic-this and gourmet-that. Whole Foods is a short hailed ride away.
So I swap one grocery name for another … no big deal, right? My lament is otherwise — my weekly grocery bill is skyrocketing. And my dash for milk and a couple of pantry staples means a patient wait in long lines that at least move methodically.
Which is one reason why I’ve turned to online recipe and ingredients delivery (Blue Apron customer for two years and counting) — easy meal planning, door delivery, less food waste and $9.99 a portion — far cheaper than any surviving grocery or any local takeout. At least two other tenants in my building of 30 units appear to be doing the same.
But that leaves me wondering: Did all the bargain food shoppers abandon moderate-price grocers in favor of premium shops? Or did high apartment rents — and even higher home buying prices — drive out all the bargain food shoppers? Probably the latter. And where did those folks go?
My neighborhood has a lot of diversity, but economic diversity, not so much. Manhattan is becoming Paris … who can afford to live here? Expensive cities are a nice problem to have (a sign of popularity, but limited housing stock), but it’s not a long-term strategy for urban health. People need to be able to live near where they work — it’s a practical consideration for quality of life.
San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Austin probably have the same problem. Booming tech creates outlandish salaries to keep up with more outlandish costs of living, poaching (which drives up salaries and benefits even more), and a need to move jobs elsewhere. That could be across the bay in Oakland, across the river in New Jersey, down the road in San Antonio or Tacoma — or hundreds of miles away in still-steep but less-punishing places like Los Angeles (Downtown and Silicon Beach), Greater Boston or the DC Beltway. Perhaps Philly, Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit are the next frontiers — never mind China, India or Eastern Europe.
But all I want to do is grab a half gallon of milk. Make that almond milk, unsweetened, vanilla flavored.