This is an opinion piece written by Newfield resident Charlotte Rosvold. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The announced closing of the Tops grocery store on South Meadow Street comes as another blow to the locally underserved and undervalued low-income population living in and around the south end of Ithaca. Perhaps before considering my aforesaid statement, your mind may have immediately jumped to accusations of price gouging, observations that “the store was always empty anyway,” Walmart/Wegman’s/Trader Joe’s band-wagoning, or well-intended points that “there’s an Aldi right up the road” and “an even better Tops up by the mall.”
Consider for a moment someone whose circumstances render all of the previous stances irrelevant. Transportation and income stability are essential factors in accessing quality foods and ingredients for preparing healthy meals at home. Unfortunately, these factors are not guaranteed or easily accessible to many people who live and work in (and near) the city.
The Tops location on S. Meadow is a manageable walking distance from the Southside’s residential areas, the Jungle, and Spencer Rd. housing. It is also more accessible to people like me, who enter the city from the Worker’s Entrance: the Buttermilk Falls side of Rt. 34/96. Put yourself in the position of someone who has never had the desire or means to Instacart in their life. I am blessed enough to have a reliable car, but there have been days during the uncertainty of the last two years that I wouldn’t have been able to afford both gas for transportation and money for groceries – if not for Tops’ downtown location, check cashing service, Bonus card discounts, and gas deals.
Additionally, with its unpretentious store brands mixed in with a plethora of locally sourced, organic, and familiar name-brand products at fair prices, the Meadow Street Tops represented an inclusive and dignified space for people from all walks of life in the community to shop for the essentials of living without completely selling out their values, preferences (and sanity) to the Blue-Devil-Corporation-Store, the Central-NY-Ivy-League-Granola-Family-Store, or the Californian-Pre-Packaged-Paisley-Paradise-Store. Interpret as you see fit.
Similar to my feelings about the news of Trader K’s closing on the Commons, I’m grateful that these stores have stayed open as long as they have and that they’ve sustained my friends and family’s basic needs in community-centered locations since I was a child. I am sorely sorry to see them go for the next generation of young people who consider Ithaca their home. While I will adapt and continue shopping at Aldi, other Tops locations, Eddydale Farm Stand, the Reuse Centers and other local thrift stores, I know my humble routines must be irrevocably changed in the very near future. I am acutely aware that some of my fellow community members’ available options for food and clothing will be completely upended by these business losses.
The Ithaca Times referred to the Tops store closing as an unfortunate end to a nice alternative to Wegmans. Are we so collectively quick to surmise these observations without considering multiple perspectives and realities of the people who live, eat, grow, work, serve, love and play here?
It’s getting much harder to be poor and local in Ithaca.