So there’s efficiency and then there’s having vultures eagerly circling, just waiting for the injured, limping animals to die.
The Safeway in my Point Grey neighbourhood was one of the 10 targeted for shutdown a few months ago. To be fair, it’s never been the best Safeway around: it’s much smaller than the more modern ones, and its selection has always reflected that.
And god knows I’ve felt a certain disquiet with just how much a sense of loss I’ve felt since the closure was first announced. But given I’ve lived in Point Grey for 13 of the past 23 years, it is more “my neighbourhood” than any other single area of Vancouver. And while I’ve known Safeway as a corporation is as horrifically corporate as they come ever since I first worked for them as a young, idealistic co-op student in their then-corporate headquarters on the outskirts of just-being-reborn Yaletown in 1994, I am still overcome by a horrible sense of emptiness at the thought of this silly, outdated, overly-small supermarket shutting down.
And tonight, not even two hours after it shut its doors forever at 6pm, the vultures were out, stripping it of any corporate branding. And as strange as it sounds, it makes me want to cry.
It’s not about the corporate loss. I would be just as upset by the closure if we were talking about a Save-On Foods or a Choices. It’s the loss of a community lynchpin that’s been here long, long before I ever arrived on the scene when I first left home and moved into a basement suite here in 1995. At that point, the Safeway had already been here more than thirty years, far longer than I had been alive.
No, it’s the fact that a store like this, a supermarket, serves as a community and commercial focal point. As they say in shopping mall-speak, the Point Grey Safeway
is well, was—an anchor for the quaint shopping district that springs up all around it.
I mean, don’t worry about me personally. I can just jump on a 99 bus and go to the much larger, more modern Safeway at Broadway and Macdonald. Yes, it will suck not being able to stop in at Safeway on my way home from work, or run over to it at 10pm at night (
in my pyjama pants, slippers, and my “I’m lounging at home” sweatshirt fully dressed with proper shoes on) when I’m craving carrots ice cream and cookies, but in a practical sense, I will not noticeably suffer anything more than some very minor inconvenience.
But three years ago, when I was deathly ill from mono in the heat of summer, having a supermarket where I—as a single person who lives alone—could get everything a person needs to, you know, keep themselves alive half a block away was a godsend. If I got that sick now, I would need to rely on my friends to keep me fed and supplied with things like tissues and over-the-counter medications. Even at my lowest point physically, I could summon up enough energy to shuffle half a block to Safeway, shuffle around picking up the odds and ends of subsistence, and shuffle home. So I can’t help but worry about the many seniors who still live in this area, for whom hopping on the 99 and whooshing away to the shinier Safeway down the hill in Kitsilano may not be an option. How much will this closure shrink their world and curtail their autonomy, which has no doubt already been steadily chipped away at by age?
And permeating all this sadness at the loss of something in the community you didn’t realize was central until you heard it would disappear is the knowledge that this casualty is yet another victim of the scourge of gentrification that is hollowing out the city of my heart. Even in the land of protests against a property surtax that will only hit those with homes valued at over $3 million,1 gentrification is rearing its ugly head, because the land this somewhat dilapidated, hasn’t-been-upgraded-since-the-early-1990s Safeway sits on is worth merely a paltry $140 million, so while the corporate types claim it’s being closed because of low profits, any 10-year-old could spot the lie there. In the short term (as is always the context for these decision in the modern corporate calculus), the land on which this shabby Safeway sits is a far more valuable asset than even a thriving supermarket would be, let alone a middling one.
So, perhaps strangely in such an affluent neighbourhood, the death of a run-of-the-mill supermarket signals far more than you would think. RIP supermarket of my youth,2 community asset… you will be missed for far more than your convenience.
- all detached homes in Point Grey are basically in that category at this point [↩]
- My answer to the “where were you when you heard” question of my generation, which would be “where were you when you heard Princess Diana had died?”, would be “at this run-of-the-mill Safeway it would take me twenty more years to realize held a strange place in my heart, with my boyfriend Kelly” [↩]