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Corner Store Wars

By Amy Shearn

Essay

When I am describing (or defending, depending on the attitude of questioner) my choice to live in the yuppie stronghold of Park Slope, I often list chief among its charms convenience, “since after all,” I add, hoping to be contradicted, “I am extremely lazy.”

I guess I can forgive people for not contradicting me. It’s pretty true, at least in terms of food preparation. When my husband and I “cook” it involves things like applying heat to a pan of refried beans. We rarely conjure the organization or gumption for a big grocery shop. Instead, we are spectacularly undiscplined, considering what to eat for dinner approximately ten minutes before we plan to be actually eating it. But it’s not our fault.  Our neighborhood has lulled us into this state. It’s just too convenient.

In fact, on our block alone there are two decent restaurants, one bar, a Chinese takeout place, a bakery, and three –yes, three– corner stores.

While the three corner stores are certainly a boon, the situation does have its pitfalls. There have been plenty of nights when I’ve strolled blithely out of the more-ghetto-but-ever-so-slightly-closer store, bag of Utz in my hot little hand, straight into the disappointed glare of the corner store proprietor across the street. And I deserve this from Bassam, the kind-hearted, hard-working Palestinian father of four who runs Junior’s, who knows everyone’s name, who always has a word of wisdom and an unnervingly positive attitude. On a sweltering summer day when his store tops out at 150 degrees, he’ll answer a “Hot enough for you” with a smiling, “It’s summer! This is beautiful!” During Ramadan he toasts our bagels with a  haunted gaze, telling us how delicious the day-long fast makes dinner. In a perfect world, we would always support Bassam.

But then there’s the other store, which recently reopened as a slightly overpriced gourmet market. As much as I love Bassam, he doesn’t offer organic avocados or local hormone-free milk at 11pm. So okay, in a perfect perfect world, I guess I’d go to the organic market for emergency veg runs, and then Bassam for your everyday average sparkling water situation.

But then there’s that first, more ghetto store, which actually also has a rather charming employee –- a larger-than-life fellow called Rolls, who recently found out I wrote a book and who now greets me at the top of his lungs, “Hey, Jane Austen!” Now, I think most writers would probably travel across town to encourage a nickname like this. Lately he’s been mixing it up, too, including other literary luminaries. Who, I ask, could resist this?

So I compromise. Some days, I admit that I end up visiting all three. And in the end, there is enough of divergence in each shop’s stock that I’ve come to feel that three corner stores is really just barely enough. Each is as necessary and beloved as, say, one of three children. Parents can’t pick one favorite! Why should I?! Honestly, when I face the thought of someday leaving our neighborhood (as will likely have to happen at some point as rents go up and we continue to not hit the jackpot on the Lotto tickets we always buy from Bassam) I shudder to think of a life with fewer corner stores. In the meantime, I stop at the ghetto store on my way home from work, greeted by Rolls’ exuberant “Why the long face, Willa Cather?”

To which I respond, a bit accusingly, “You don’t have Pirate Booty!” — slinking to the next corner store in search of the elusive puffs.

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Amy Shearn AMY SHEARN is the author of the novel How Far Is the Ocean from Here. She lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a baby, and a dog. Visit her online at amyshearn.com.

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