East Buffalo: Due to the mass shooting that took place recently in East Buffalo, the black neighbourhood lost its hard fought and obtained valuable grocery store- the Tops friendly Market in Pennsylvania.2 months down the incident, the store has re-opened its doors to the community. But the memory of the massacre still haunts the public to be able to return on site, some, forced to due to no choice. With witnesses like Pastor Dwayne jones from Mount Aaron Missionary Baptist church who has spearheaded projects across city to provide affordable housing to the community states that Tops should just be a temporary option meantime, working on a new location, as reported by the local daily.
“It has been very traumatic to the congregation, to the community, to people – seeing those bodies come out of Tops,” Jones said.
The massacre found 10 black people shot and murdered by a white teen in an alleged racially motivated shooting on May 14. Victims were also Tops employees and regular customers. Questions of fear are in the atmosphere, on where to re-locate, how to trust others not part of the community etc. It has marked people as a traumatic experience which they must heal from.
James Crews, a community leader and organiser from East Buffalo, having seen the raw footage of the shooting is heartfelt and empathises with the community and claims if there was a better viable option available, even he wouldn’t want to go back to Tops. Despite this, some have no other choice but to return to this resource.
Crews alongside his fraternity brothers will look at reopening Friday to help the elderly with theirgroceries to cherish a circle of warm help and reassurance to come back. On Thursday afternoon, Tops executives, employee, and community members gathered for the prayer service to mark the 2-month anniversary to give their prayers to the victims.Relocation would take 2-3 years, as stated by President of Tops Market; John Persons.
As a “testament of resiliency”, 75% of the employees who worked at Tops have returned to work in mind of rededication, says Persons, also statingthat, in June, employees who don’t want to return can relocate to other branches as well, Tops Markets operates in 150 stores across Pennsylvania, Vermont and New York, with 7 locations.
The remodellingplan of the store will provide a different feel and look, providing extensive space, organic options of all products and community collaborations for nutrition education and health screenings.
The concern of “food scarcity” has been spreading among the predominantly black community after the closure of Tops Supermarket.
Food scarcity occurs when households have inaccessibility to a market beyond walkable distance and translates to food insecurity. Andre perry, author of “Know your price: Valuing black lives and property in America’s Black cities” states that black households are 2 times more likely to be food insecure than national average.
He points out “redlining” –the practise of withholding services like providing housing subsidies from low-incomecommunities as a key factor to unavailability of food access.
When Tops Friendly Market opened in 2003, it became a source of pride for the black community, which was always viewed with a dim view.
Prior to the Tops opening, the area was a food desert, with its nearest grocery store almost 3 miles away. The significant efforts to bring in a supermarket was a tough one due to the reluctancy of markets to provide support for the community.
The opening of Tops was a huge deal to be able to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, so that the public didn’t have to reply on second hand grocery.
Following the shooting, the active investigation led to the store being inaccessible, resulting in people being deprived of products. But community leaders worked restlessly to fill the gap by planning food drives, buses providing free transportation and neighbouring grocery stores and volunteers working to distribute hot meals and groceries to East Buffalo families.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Tops Friendly Markets partnered with the National Compassion Fund to establish the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund to provide direct financial assistance to family members of the deceased and those impacted by the tragedy. As of Thursday morning, the fund received more than $4.26 million in donations, including a $500,000 donation from Tops Markets. The community had come together as well, to get the store back on its feet.