by Diana Nelson Jones/April 30
When D'Imperios Market closed early last year after an 80-year run, Hazelwood lost the only grocery store it had.
"We've been working here for the benefit of thieves," Michael Dimperio told me late in 2008 when he decided to close the store.
All the people who weren't thieves grieved a little, and the thieves were probably sad, too. Losing a hyper-local food source is a deep cut to the psyche. It's not just a loss, it's a failure of place.
Like all neighborhoods, Hazelwood has pride of place and a clutch of its residents have held several meetings to push the idea of a neighborhood-owned grocery store a little further through the pipeline. Lisa Stolarski of the Keystone Development Center is guiding the effort
Wednesday night, about 15 people gathered, some of whom have been to all the meetings, and at the end, everyone who wanted to help steer the thing moved to a common table, those who want to deal with financing moved to another table and people who want to drum up membership moved to a third.
They have to figure out whether they want to have customer membership or be worker owned, whether the traditional grocery store everyone wants would team with local-food producers, such as the Hazelwood urban farm (which Walkabout will be visiting tomorrow.) They have to decide where it will be. Lutual Love, a stalwart of these meetings, said Dimperio's would be a good location.
There is already a back-and-forth over what the shelves will hold and a class-driven undercurrent about the value of basics - toilet paper, baby food and traditional groceries - over organic produce. As if the two can't live together in peace!
Megan Dietz said she worked at a co-op in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where "they had great organic stuff that was dirt cheap" because the co-op wasn't going for a high mark-up. If it's grown locally, there's no gasoline to add to the cost.
They have to raise equity. There's a rub, among many. Much of Hazelwood is working-class, underemployed or unemployed. But the hardest part is perseverance.
After covering neighborhood idea meetings for 150 years now, I know that's the secret to success. So many groups hit roadblocks or don't build on their enthusiasm quickly enough or just lose faith and get tired and nothing happens. Walkabout cheers on Hazelwood as it takes toddler steps toward a food co-op or a community grocery - there's contention about the verbiage - and hopes that those involved remember how worth it it was to take those first steps back when adulthood seemed like eternity.