Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Green Sparkling Eyeliner

The Eye of Employment
I live in a food desert.

  • A few blocks from my house is a "Food Mart" that sells ice cream, 25 cent bags of chips, and rolling papers.  No thanks.  
  • Across the bridge and down the road is a dusty "Latino" supermarket that has a nice stock of yuca, bread, and tamarind juice.  Not a horrible option, but the parking lot is dicey and rails at the door prevent shoppers from wheeling carts out to their cars which I find depressing and inconvenient.  
  • The Super Walmart on the highway can be super if you want to buy milk and bicycles at the same time, but usually I just want food and entering into that labyrinth is a exhausting endeavor that usually includes at least 15 minutes in the check out line. Sorry Sam, no can do.
Traditional supermarkets (e.g. Stop and Shop) are within reach, thanks to my minivan and US-Middle East foreign policy, but it's a drive to and from that doesn't make a lot of sense seeing as I live in a city.  Jane Jacobs would be sad.

So, you can imagine how happy I was to see that the space where the A&P was, and then went out of business, was reopening in the form of a Shop Rite.  Clearly, spelling doesn't count.  Driving into the lot last week, after a short 5 minute spin in the Odyssey, was a thrill.  A nice big corporate supermarket in my edge of the woods.  My expectation was that I would find the yogurts I like, good bananas, and bunch of yummy cheese.  On all accounts, I was not disappointed.  

What I also found in abundance - quite unexpectedly - was happiness and hope.  What a lovely surprise! Here's a lot in East Haven that has been vacant for years.  Then a bunch of grown-ups got together and did the deal that brought a supermarket back.  Open for only two days when I arrived, the store was impeccably clean and organized.  And everyone, especially the employees, was smiling.  It was clear to me that most of the employees had not been working, and now they were, and they were psyched.  Perhaps because one of my first jobs was working in a supermarket, I found the cadre of high school students bagging at the end of each check out especially sweet.  

Surely the attitude in the market could be attributed to the novelty of it all.  Will the job bagging groceries at the market on the highway generate such a thrill for the boy with braces six months down the line?  Maybe not.  But the impermanence of a happy moment should not diminish its value. It was a grand opening on many levels.

The cashier who checked me out was a woman in her 20s.  Her eye makeup was beautifully done, lined with sparkly green, to match the shop's uniform apron.  She looked amazing - she had gotten ready for work that day and was doing a great job at her brand new job.

In short, if you want to know what economic development looks like, what it feels like, go to the Shop Rite on Route 80 and there you will have it, right before your very eyes.  And next time you drive by a vacant lot, a boarded up supermarket on the side of the road, stop, imagine, and get involved.