When Shopping in Astoria, Leave Your Supermarket Rewards Card at Home
I've also just returned to a city I last lived in about five years ago, so I thought I'd follow Karen's post with one of my own. In the past five years the New York brand of consumerism that revolves around real estate has changed Astoria quite a bit. My bike ride today happened to take me in the direction of my old apartment so I rode down my old street. Back then, one side of the street was occupied by a row of newly-built three-story apartment buildings while the other was a storage facility for rental cars. Now, both sides are lined with small apartment buildings up and down the entire block. New construction is everywhere, some of it blending into the neighborhood as these small buildings do, but some of it consisting of tall, modern, ugly "luxury" apartment buildings that are changing the character of the neighborhood for the worse, in my opinion.
Fortunately, the negative changes don't seem to extend to the food shopping opportunities here (yet). Yes, there are health food stores that were not here back then, but those seem relatively benign when compared to the way chains like Starbucks have taken over Manhattan. From my apartment I walk about five blocks east to do my food shopping, stopping in an Italian salumeria for fresh pasta, ham, and speck (smoked prosciutto), La Casa del Pan for empanadas, chicharrones, and chorizo, and a Greek butcher for lamb chops. There are two produce stores side-by-side where sometimes the fruit is ripe enough to smell as I walk by. The last stop is Yaya's bakery for fresh bread. There's a supermarket just down the street with an amazing array of products that cater to what is apparently a predominantly Latin American, Greek, and Middle Eastern clientele, but I find that I rarely have to go there and deal with the cramped aisles and long lines-- nearly everything I need I can find in smaller, locally-owned shops. There isn't even a Starbucks in my immediate neighborhood!
So far, I feel ambivalent about being back here. I'm glad to be able to shop as I did in Paris-- in small specialty stores that don't cost an arm and a leg as do most such places in Manhattan-- and that many of the things that give a place a "neighborhood" feel are still here. But, I'm also part of what I consider to be a problem in New York: white-collar newcomers invading a neighborhood resulting in new construction, an increase in the cost of housing, an influx of chain restaurants and stores, and the loss of the character of that individual place as the store and restaurant owners and residents who gave it that character are pushed even farther away from Manhattan. The best I can do so far is live in a pre-war building, thus avoiding the new "luxury" buildings with inflated rental prices, shop at the old stores...and hope other newcomers are doing the same.