The New Starbucks and The Ghost of Cookie

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Cookie packed bags at Pioneer Foods, kept Our Time Press neat in the rack, and helped get groceries home, but his real job was to give the community around Grand and Lafayette Avenues the opportunity to express the kindness of strangers. And in that job he came to work every day. He will be missed and remembered.

Thirty years ago, there was a supermarket that sat right at the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and Grand Avenue. It was called Dan’s Supermarket. A laundromat sat next to it. That supermarket was an intersection of our community. Neighbors that owned brownstones would shop there. Neighbors from nearby Lafayette Gardens Housing Project would shop there, too. You knew the owners, the cashiers and the guy cutting lunch meat, and they all knew you, too.

If you ever shopped at Dan’s, you’ve probably met Cookie. Cookie was a bagger, a delivery man and the kindest nuisance that ever trolled the checkout aisles of a supermarket. You’d go into Dan’s and shop for some groceries, and when you went to checkout Cookie would be there, standing at the end of your checkout aisle, greeting you, bagging up your groceries and lying through the few teeth he had about something or the other. You’d pay for your groceries and as you went to thank Cookie for bagging you up, he’d always ask you for a dollar, or a couple of dollars. If you had it, he’d take it and thank you, but if you didn’t have it he’d still thank you. Either way he was fine.

By the time you’d become a regular at Dan’s, or at C-Town, which was the new name of the supermarket after the name change in the early 90’s, you were a regular with Cookie, too. You’d speak to him and he’d say things like, “How’s your mother doing?” Or, “I saw you running for the bus this morning.” And you’d answer him while wondering how he knew the things he knew. After a while, you’d just stop wondering altogether and you’d realize that Cookie was more than a vagrant earning food and beer money by bagging groceries and asking for spare change. Cookie was a part of the community, he was one of us. My sister Kyam worked at C-Town in the mid-90’s as a cashier. It was my job as big brother to meet her at 8pm when the store closed, and to walk her home. Oftentimes, I’d be running the streets and not around to handle my brotherly responsibilities. If I couldn’t make it around the corner to get Kyam from work, Cookie would walk her home. My sister wasn’t the only C-Town worker that Cookie looked out for. He had this way about him, where you couldn’t help but to realize that he loved his community and the people in it.

Cookie passed away some time ago, 7, maybe 8 years ago. A few years later, C-Town was closed and the building that once housed the supermarket and the laundromat was torn down to make room for yet another new development.

I thought about Cookie this week because I happened to be walking down Lafayette Avenue when I came upon the new building. I realized that not only were they pretty much done but they had already housed one of their new tenants. There’s now a Starbucks sitting right on the corner of Lafayette and Grand. It isn’t opened yet, but the awning is up. A Starbucks placed smack dab in the middle of our neighborhood. Choices Coffee Shop is right across the street. Urban Vintage is another coffee shop is right down the block on Clifton Place. Of all the things that could’ve been put there, did our community really need another coffee shop? And a Starbucks no less? Talk about a slap in the face to two, well-liked small businesses in that area.

The problem with hypercommercialism is that it sucks the life out of the symbiotic relationship between community and small business. The owners of Choices know my mother well. They’ve been in our community now for well over a decade. At Starbucks, the closest that the staff will get to its client base is writing their names on the cups of coffee they sell, and they often get that wrong, too. I think, “Would Cookie be welcomed in that Starbucks? Would he be able to go into the place, talk with the people there and be well-received? Of course, he wouldn’t.” Starbucks staff have called the police on young Black men for acting in a similar fashion–for just going in the place and needing to be well-received.

It’s good to see the growth in my community, but I think I’ll continue to support Choices and Urban Vintage and allow for Starbucks to cater to who the developers assumed they’d be catering to anyway.