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Corner stores on the edge

A market in Queens, New York

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: One way to check out a neighborhood, to get some sense of who lives nearby, what they do or what they care about, you need go no further than the corner store. They're fixtures in towns all over the country. But in denser urban areas where housing prices are rising dramatically, some of those stores are seeing a lot of new faces.

From WNYC in New York City, Lisa Chow reports.


LISA CHOW: On a busy corner in Brooklyn, Francesco Crousset has run the Papa and Sons bodega for 12 years. The neighborhood's changing. People from wealthier parts of the city are moving in and housing prices have doubled in four years.

Tastes are changing, too. Crousset started stocking organic milk earlier this year. But a quick glance at his shelves reveals he's still focused on the longtime residents of the neighborhood.

FRANCESCO CROUSSET: Sugar, coffee and soup. You know, like canned soup. Like Campbell.

Three miles away, Bilal Solmaz runs a corner grocery in a neighborhood that started to gentrify about a decade ago. His new customers suggested different products, and he listened. Now, his store is less of a bodega and more of an up-market grocery. It's about half the size of Papa and Sons, but it does twice as much business.

BILAL SOLMAZ: Now we are selling fancy, fancy soup. It's called Wolfgang Puck. You know him, right? There is organic. There is regular. And it sells great.

Crousset is moving in the same direction as Solmaz. He travels to wealthier neighborhoods in Brooklyn, like Park Slope, to get a look at the kinds of products his new customers might buy.

CROUSSET (voice of interpreter): I go to Park Slope because it's an area where there are more white people. I see the merchandise that they have in the stores, and it's something I'd like to have, too.

Crousset is still learning the ropes. I ask him whether he sells organic vegetables. He walks me to an aisle and points to rows of cans.

CROUSSET: You see? Organic sweet pea, organic kosher green bean, organic canned corn. You see, we start.

CHOW: Do you have any organic, like, fresh vegetables?

CROUSSET: This one, I have to ask the person at the market. I don't know — can you get organic, fresh vegetables?

Jennifer Sun moved to Crousset's neighborhood a year ago. She likes the bodega's location and she would like to shop there more. But despite Crousset's efforts, there's still not much in Papa and Sons that she wants to buy.

JENNIFER SUN: The fact that they have so many low-end products that totally don't appeal to us make me feel like they're like, in this transition of trying to serve two different populations of people.

Like the neighborhood, Crousset's store is at a crossroads. He wants to keep all his customers happy — his regulars and newcomers like Jennifer Sun. But if the gentrification of the neighborhood accelerates, he'll have to keep pace with the changes if he wants to stay in business.

In New York, I'm Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

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