Buffalo, NY ( Associated Press) — Top Friendly Market was more than a place to buy groceries. As the only supermarket for miles, it became a community center of sorts on the Buffalo East Side—where you chatted with neighbors and caught up with people’s lives.
“This is where we go to buy bread and wait 15, 20 minutes because if you just go for a loaf of bread, you’ll get four or five people you know, we’re going to have some conversation with you. Before leaving, “Buffalo City Councilman Ulysses O. Wingo, who represents the struggling Black neighborhood where he grew up. “You just like it because it’s your shop.”
Now residents are mourning the deaths of 10 black people at the hands of an 18-year-old white man who took three hours to execute a racist, livestreamed shooting rampage in a crowded supermarket on Saturday.
They also struggle with being targeted in a location that is of great importance to the community. Before Topps opened on the East Side in 2003, residents had to travel to other communities to buy nutritious food or snacks and high-priced staples like milk and eggs from corner shops and gas stations.
The fact that there is no other option highlights the racial and economic divide that existed in Buffalo long before the shooting.
“People talked about demographics, income levels, crime and other factors,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Browne. “I realized that money here was as green as money anywhere, that there was a lot of money to be spent in this community and there was a need for service.”
Wingo said it was no coincidence that the gunman chose the shop to shoot.
“Knowing the density of African Americans on this side of the city and going on top of that knowing that this side of the city is a food desert was intentional, it was intentional, and it was bad,” Wingo said. “And we know that because they did reconnaissance the day before to make sure there were black people there.”
Topps said on Wednesday that its shop is under active police investigation. Once this is done, “we will have a team to assess next steps with the intention of rebuilding and repairing the store for the community, in as little time as possible,” it said.
Meanwhile, Tops and others are working to make sure residents don’t go out.
A temporary food bank was set up a short distance from the supermarket. The Buffalo Community Fridge received a substantial monetary donation that it would distribute some of the funds to other local organizations. Topps arranged a bus to get residents of the East Side to and from its other Buffalo locations.
Pastor James Giles, coordinator of the anti-violence group Buffalo Peacemakers, said he is offering help from area churches and businesses, the Buffalo Bills, competing grocery stores and even the utility company after the shooting.
“I want us to be a city of good neighbors. And I hope we aspire to live up to that nickname,” Giles said. “But I think we can’t get there until we tell the truth about the white supremacy and racism that already exists in our city.”
After decades of neglect and decline, only a few stores remain along Jefferson Avenue, the once thriving main drag of the East Side, among them a Family Dollar, a deli, a liquor store and a few convenience stores, as well as a There is also a library. and black-run businesses such as Golden Cup of Coffee, Zavadi Books and The Challenger News.
Jillian Hensworth, 29, who was born and raised there, said the construction of an expressway contributed to cutting off neighborhoods, with drivers passing underground without being noticed. At a recent rally, Hensworth said he asked the crowd how many GPSs were needed to get there, and several white men raised their hands.
“Many people who talk about Buffalo don’t live here,” said Heinsworth, the city’s poet laureate and director of leadership development at Open Buffalo, a nonprofit focused on social justice and community development.
Like many residents, she stops to think when asked where the next closest major grocery is located: none are within walking distance, and it takes three different buses to get to Price Rite.
Residents, lawmakers and other advocates pushed for supermarkets for years after groceries and other stores closed in the neighborhood’s Central Park Plaza before Topps opened on the East Side, Wingo said.
Yvette Mack, 62, remembers when the streets weren’t so empty. But when she was about 15 or 16, she noticed that places were going out of business.
“As I got older, everything started to fade,” she said.
Eventually she moved to town but returned to the East Side in 2020, glad a supermarket was back. Mack says she’d shop at Tops, sometimes three or four times, to buy pop, meat, and play her numbers. She was there on Saturday before the shoot.
Now, she’s not sure she can go back once stores reopen, but hopes community conversations can lead to more businesses on the East Side.
Hensworth worries that when Tops reopens, “it’s not going to feel like us anymore.”
“And we fought for so long to feel like ourselves. And black communities across the country have been fighting for so long to feel that something is ours, like something is safe for us,” she said. “Like we can go shopping, we can go to church, we can go to school, we can go to the movies. And that’s being taken from us all the time.”
Sarkar and Nasser are members of Associated Press’s race and ethnicity team. Associated Press writers John Wavro and Caroline Thompson in Buffalo, New York, and Tammy Weber in Fenton, Michigan contributed to this story.