The Tops Supermarket In Buffalo Was A Sign Of Hope For Black Residents
Diversity, Equality, Inclusion News Politics

The Supermarket That Was The Scene Of The Buffalo Shooting Is Also An Example of Supermarket Redlining

Tops supermarket
(Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

The Tops Supermarket that was the scene of the Buffalo mass shooting was once a beacon of progress for the city’s Black residents.

CNN reported in August 2001, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer attended the announcement of the  Tops Supermarket in Buffalo. Former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, current Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and other local officials also participated.

The 90-minute event featured 18 speakers and was billed as “Buffalo’s longest-ever news conference.”

The announcement was the end of more than a decade of activism by community advocates against the food and health inequities on the east side of Buffalo, where 85% of the city’s Black residents live.

“The wait for a full-service supermarket has been long and painful for residents of the East Side,” a Buffalo News editorial said at the time. “The fact that more than 113,000 residents have been without a full-service supermarket is unacceptable.”

The Buffalo Tops made its first sale in 2003, and to this day, it’s still the only supermarket on Buffalo’s East Side, which is still one of the most segregated cities in the U.S.

The shooting, in which Payton Gendron drove to the Tops Supermarket before shooting and killing 10 Black people, is yet another incident Buffalo’s Black community will never forget. Residents on the East Side of Buffalo have been subjected to a legacy of racial segregation, economic and political neglect, housing inequality, and more.

Henry Louis Taylor Jr., the director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies and a historian of race and class, told CNN Tops Supermarket represents a hard-fought win for the city’s Black residents.

Tops “was an institution we fought for. It didn’t just end up there. We used our political power and clout to make it happen. It represented a significant venture against food apartheid.”

According to a 2018 report by the Partnership for the Public Good, Buffalo’s Black residents are six times more likely to live in an area without a grocery store than white residents. As a result, Black residents in the city have less access to fresh fruit and vegetables and quality food, something known as supermarket redlining, which affects Black and minority neighborhoods today.

According to a CNN Business analysis, more than 15% of majority-Black neighborhoods in the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. do not have access to a supermarket in their neighborhoods. Less than 10% of white neighborhoods in the same cities do not have access to a supermarket.

Tops was owned by Dutch grocery company Ahold when it was announced it would open a Buffalo location and received $3 million between taxpayer money and state, county, and federal grants for the construction of the store. Although the supermarket is smaller than other Tops locations, it does include a pharmacy, bank, and cafe and employs 100 people, making it a vital part of the community.