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When a management company announced last winter that the drugstore chain Walgreens would take over the lease of one of Washington Heights’ major grocery stores, Associated Supermarket on Fort Washington Avenue, neighbors and elected officials rallied and fought back.
Their activism was mirrored in nearby Inwood, where residents fought the mayor’s plan for Sherman Plaza, a new housing development that they feared would accelerate gentrification. But perhaps the most enduring anti-gentrification efforts can be found in the narrow aisles of the neighborhoods’ many small grocery stores and meat markets, their shelves packed with Spanish-labeled products from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. These markets offer a selection of international items you might not find in faddish organic supermarkets — and at prices that are, by New York City standards, extremely reasonable.
On a typical weekend afternoon at Antillana Meat Market on the corner of 162nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, you’ll find kids dashing in and out with spices and rice and multicolored beans, on errands for their mothers and aunts and grandmothers. Passersby thumb through the shop’s produce selection outside under the awning, looking for quenepas, a tart, fleshy Caribbean fruit housed in a hard round green shell, and yuca, a Dominican-staple root vegetable. Inside, slabs of meat are chopped and bagged at a counter to the strains of bachata and salsa on the radio. Antillana and countless other stores like it help keep Washington Heights familiar to those who have long called the area home. And it will be the quiet defiance of these businesses that helps sustain efforts to keep uptown uptown.