Tops Friendly Markets has reopened its Buffalo, New York, grocery store where 10 people were killed in a racist massacre in May, a decision that has outraged residents who hoped the location would be turned into a memorial.
The predominantly Black community also has expressed dismay that the tragedy has not prompted officials to fulfill a decades-long need for the neighborhood to have more than one supermarket.
Since the shooting, residents of the Cold Springs neighborhood have been without a fresh-food market, relying on corner stores and shuttles that Tops provided to locations in other communities — the nearest location is 2.7 miles away. The tragedy highlighted the limited healthy food sources on Buffalo’s East Side, as Black residents expressed discomfort shopping in predominantly white neighborhoods where they felt unwelcome.
Residents say they would like officials to hear their thoughts on moving the Cold Springs Tops to another vacant location on Jefferson Avenue, adding an additional quality grocery store in the community, and creating a respectful memorial for the victims.
Buffalo resident Jerome R. Wright launched an online petition calling for the reopening to be delayed to allow for more community input on what to do with the Tops property.
“Local politicians and legislators want to force our community to again enter a place that no amount of deep cleaning or re-modeling can restore,” he wrote. “Many in our community DO NOT ever want to step foot inside of that place.”
The store’s reopening on July 15 comes two months after a white man drove more than three hours from Conklin, New York, to the nearly 80% Black neighborhood and opened fire with his legally purchased, semiautomatic Bushmaster XM-15. During the now 19-year-old’s livestreamed rampage, he paused to apologize to at least one non-Black person in the store, and once police officers arrived on the scene he surrendered unscathed.
Roberta A. Drury, 32; Margus D. Morrison, 52; Andre Mackneil, 53; Aaron Salter, 55; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; Katherine Massey, 72; Pearl Young, 77; and Ruth Whitfield, 86, were killed and three others were injured. The gunman faces multiple counts of first-degree murder as a hate crime in state court, and was additionally indicted on July 14 with federal hate crime charges.
“Although the racist murderer has been apprehended, the real killer — racism — remains at large and is partly manifested in this rush to inflict more pain, fear, trauma and disrespect on our already reeling community,” Wright wrote in his petition about the reopening of the store.
On Wednesday night, before the soft launch, Buffalo resident and founder of Feed Buffalo, Drea d’Nur, recorded a Facebook Live video from outside of the fenced-in store. She was brought to tears by the idea of going back to Tops, where 10 beloved members of the community were slain.
“This feels so disrespectful,” d’Nur said with tears in her eyes.
Commenters on d’Nur’s Facebook video suggested demolishing the property, and others agreed that the grounds should become a memorial site.
The lack of a grocery store during the temporary closure of the Tops wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for residents of the Cold Spring neighborhood. Buffalo has been plagued with socioeconomic racism, in part due to redlining and a lack of investment. The city is ranked in the top 20 most segregated in the country.
“We are a community that deserves greater than one [grocery store]. Look around Buffalo and you’ll find as many as three to five markets for residents of other communities,” said the Rev. Diann Holt. “Can somebody please tell me why it remains this way in Cold Spring in 2022? Why do the powers that be have no problem with the lack of market resources for Eastside residence?”
Days following the massacre, the community rallied to establish free food and supply pantries on sidewalks within a mile of the crime scene, as did other nationally recognized nonprofit food bank organizations. The owners of Tops grocery store chain established the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund, provided free shuttle services to other locations and vowed to reopen the store.
But replacing the bloodstained linoleum tiles and slapping a new coat of paint on the walls to make that location presentable for reopening is not the answer Wright and other Cold Springs residents want, at least not while they’re still grieving.
“We recognize how difficult it may be for some members of our community to return to the store,” wrote Kathleen Sautter, a spokeswoman for Tops, in an email to Capital B. “The healing process is ongoing throughout our entire community. It’s important to note, though, that every community needs a grocery store they can rely on for healthy food, medicines and everyday essentials.”
Sautter added that the company spoke to “community members, local leaders, customers, our associates, and yes, some of the victim’s family members, about how important and urgent it is for us to ensure East Buffalo has direct, local access to a full-service grocer” and because of that need they “worked quickly to fully renovate this store. The interior and exterior are completely different — providing not only a new, but also an enhanced experience for our customers.”
Other members of the community allege that they were not involved with the reopening plans and wanted the discussions to be open to everyone since the tragedy shook more than the families who lost a relative.
“We are well aware of the essential need for a store of that caliber in that community especially given that it continues to suffer from Food Apartheid … [But there are] No plans for any additional stores, no deserving, dignified and respectful memorial and of course, NO tangible plan(s) for moving forward that the actual COMMUNITY has direct input,” Wright wrote in the petition. “We can no longer be complicit with those who just want to return to normal because there’s a new normal and that’s that we demand to be respected and treated like everyone else; with dignity, respect and compassion.”
Mass shootings — an event in which four or more people are killed and/or injured — frequently occurred in schools, workplaces and other public facilities, according to the Gun Violence Archive database. During the last 10 years, nearly 570 have occurred in bars or nightclubs, while 24 occurred in workplaces and more than two dozen occurred in educational institutions, the database shows. Some of those businesses and schools were either reopened or rebuilt; some were demolished.
Six months after the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 people were murdered and almost 60 others were injured, the property was reopened. At the reopening ceremony, the father of one victim told The Denver Post: “This isn’t only the place we lost Alex. … This is the place we also live. We love to come to the movies.”
A year after the May 2021 shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority site where an employee killed nine co-workers, the agency decided to tear down the building.
“It’s a sad reminder of what happened. And I think the purpose of it coming down is just to help let us take one more step forward in trying to help heal,” Valley Transportation Authority board member Glenn Hendricks told KTVU.
And months after 20 children and six teachers were brutally killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, that building was torn down and underwent a $50 million reconstruction. Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered days after the Buffalo massacre by another 18-year-old gunman, will also be demolished and rebuilt.
On Thursday, a moment of silence and prayer were held outside of the crime scene in Buffalo before Tops hosted a soft launch of the newly renovated grocery store. Several elected officials, including Mayor Byron Brown, and members of the greater Buffalo community were invited to tour the facility.
Inside, brand-new floors were in place, the shelves were stocked and a memorial water wall with a poem written by a Buffalo resident had been installed.
But the names of the victims of the shooting were absent.