Skip to Content

Taking Stock of Staying Stocked

By Bo Méndez

Posted on April 23, 2020

Interior of Sahadi Importing Company, Brooklyn, N.Y
Interior of Sahadi Importing Company, Brooklyn, N.Y [Interior of Sahadi Importing Company, Brooklyn, N.Y], circa 1983, v1992.35.5; Jim Kalett photographs for "Brooklyn -- and How it Got that Way", Brooklyn Historical Society.

During these weeks of sheltering in place, we will be honoring Brooklyn’s essential workers: the people who keep us fed, provide groceries and other essentials, clean homes and workplaces, and take care of us when we’re sick.

This week we’re honoring our borough’s tireless grocery store workers, who have been working to keep food, household needs, and other essential supplies available to all Brooklynites while adjusting to new circumstances to keep both customers and employees safe.

This week’s image takes us inside the legendary Sahadi’s Importing Company store located at 187 Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. In this photo, taken by Jim Kalett for the 1983 book Brooklyn — and How it Got that Way, we see the bulk bins of imported olives, grains, and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern staples that have brought renown to Sahadi’s and made the store and its staff Brooklyn fixtures since 1948. Sahadi’s Brooklyn location spun off from an earlier incarnation of the business established in Manhattan in 1898 and represents three generations of the Lebanese-American Sahadi family’s roots in New York City. The store encapsulates a friendly, “take a number” approach to service reminiscent of throwback delicatessens, and the offerings range from the bulk items in the picture (the company’s website quotes co-owner Charlie Sahadi as saying that he “can sell you five ounces of peanuts, or a fifty pound bag”), to imported global goods not found outside of specialty stores, to the store’s own prepared foods and catering dishes. After 70 years in business on Atlantic Ave, the store expanded to a second location in Industry City in 2019. While the original location is temporarily closed for in-store shopping, the Industry City location is open as of this writing. You can also order groceries for delivery or curbside pickup from either location.

In this photo, a smiling Charlie reminds us that goods and foodstuffs do not make their way from grocery store shelves to our pantries and tables spontaneously, but are the product of workers receiving deliveries and stocking displays; cashiers processing transactions and bagging goods; and others who help shoppers find the things they need. In light of COVID-19, these workers at stores throughout the city are now also helping to enforce social distancing guidelines and putting in extra time to properly clean and disinfect surfaces to keep everyone who comes through the store safe.

In writing this, I also wanted to acknowledge the bodega workers who are staying open to provide their communities with the things they need and keep business going. While “convenience stores” or “corner stores” are a ubiquitous feature of the American landscape, the bodega captures an extra spark of magic that makes these establishments quintessentially New York. Often immigrant-owned and -staffed, these smaller businesses and their eclectic (though sometimes less-healthy) selections help to provide economical options for grocery and home needs, as well as to fill in the gaps in communities that are less-served by bigger grocery outlets. In the Brooklyn community of East New York, for example, there are thirteen bodegas for every one supermarket.

2009.004

2009.004

Vasquez Grocery, 2004, 2009.004.3; James and Karla Murray Counter Culture exhibition photographs, 2009.004; Brooklyn Historical Society.

In writing this, I also wanted to acknowledge the bodega workers who are staying open to provide their communities with the things they need and keep business going. While “convenience stores” or “corner stores” are a ubiquitous feature of the American landscape, the bodega captures an extra spark of magic that makes these establishments quintessentially New York. Often immigrant-owned and -staffed, these smaller businesses and their eclectic (though sometimes less-healthy) selections help to provide economical options for grocery and home needs, as well as to fill in the gaps in communities that are less-served by bigger grocery outlets. In the Brooklyn community of East New York, for example, there are thirteen bodegas for every one supermarket.

This image depicts Vasquez Grocery, a family-owned grocery store and bodega, located at 591 Knickerbocker Avenue in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. While the store closed in 2016, it was immortalized in this photo taken by James and Karla Murray for the BHS exhibition Counter/Culture: The Disappearing Face of Brooklyn’s Storefronts, which documented through photos and interviews both small businesses and larger establishments to show how businesses help hold together the fabric of their communities. The Murrays have been taking photos like this in many neighborhoods of Brooklyn since the 1990s in an effort to preserve unique elements of these communities that have been faced with (or shuttered by) change over time. You can see more photos from this exhibition in this gallery here and learn more in the collection finding aid here. Follow the Murrays as they continue to document the changing landscape of the city online and on Instagram.

Wherever you are getting your food and essentials these days, be sure to stay safe while keeping aware of the work that goes into things that are sometimes taken for granted. And if you come across your local bodega cat, give them a friendly nod. They’re working too!

Thank you to everyone who is helping Brooklyn to stay stocked right now, and everyone working to keep us safe and healthy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked