Fairway Draws Crowds to Harlem

Photograph: A shopper selects grapefruit at Fairway last week. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.
Photograph: Local resident Josephine Melendez stocks up on produce. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.

In the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, all roads lead to Fairway. At least it seems that way lately.

Just take a look on any sunny Saturday morning: On the sidewalks of Broadway and 125th Street, from the clogged West Side Highway off-ramp, in taxis and shuttle buses, people are heading toward Harlem's new sprawling discount supermarket on the Hudson River waterfront at 133rd Street.

"It's like Mecca," said Leonora Hanna, of 139th Street, while selecting fresh baked bread in Fairway.

Josephine Melendez, picking up a head of broccoli, said she is attracted by Fairway's fresh produce, low prices and wide selection.

"Everything looks beautiful," she said. Her friend, Theresa Sapia, added: "It is very good quality."

Melendez, who lives in Harlem, also said she is glad to see Fairway create a convergence of residents from different neighborhoods.

The supermarket owners agree.

"There's good synergy between the different wage earning groups. We have people who make $20,000 and people who make $200,000 shopping together," said David Sneddon, one of the store's four co-owners.

"A lot of Columbia people come up here, and a lot of people from the Harlem neighborhood," Sneddon said. The convenient 250-car parking lot also attracts shoppers from all over the city and parts of New Jersey.

The Fairway is a combination of a gourmet food shop and wholesale superstore. With a steaming cup from the coffee counter, or munching on a free sample of dessert, shoppers can navigate their carts through the crowds in the cheese section, the produce section, the refrigerated meats room, and so on. One recent weekend, a man walked into Fairway with his young daughter, took one look around the place, and said, "Wow."

E.R. Shipp, a professor at the School of Journalism who lives near the new Fairway, said the supermarket is a "social experiment on many levels." Not only does it provide affordable, quality groceries to consumers in Harlem, but it is attracting Columbians and other New Yorkers who previously did not travel into the neighborhood.

"This is another reason for them to come up and be shocked that civilized people live here," she said. "I like to see the intermingling of people who otherwise would never shop together." She noted that in the new Fairway, strangers strike up conversations while examining the tomatoes.

Before Sneddon and his partners opened the 35,000-square-food store in what had once been a meat packing plant under the West Side Highway, there were many skeptics.

"They thought we were nuts," said co-owner Joe Fedele. But he was confident the Fairway in Harlem would attract the tens of thousands of shoppers it has, he said, "Because it's a safe neighborhood."

Everything has not been rosy. Fairway is in a dispute with the city over zoning. The new Fairway, which its owners call "a wholesaler to the public," is located in a manufacturing zone that does not allow retail food stores. If Fairway cannot demonstrate that it is a wholesale operation, then the business may be in violation of its permit. Bodega owners in the neighborhood have also complained their business is down since Fairway opened. However, the community is rallying around Fairway, buoyed by an editorial last week in The New York Times which declared: "Save the Harlem Fairway."

Fairway offers a shuttle service in the neighborhood Monday through Friday. It starts at 96th Street and Broadway at 10:00 A.M., and makes stops at 106th , 110th, 116th and 125th Streets, arriving at Fairway at approximately 10:30 A.M. The other shuttles begin at 1:30 P.M. and 5:00 P.M. at 96th Street. Each round trip shuttle service allows for two hours of shopping, then backtracks along the same Broadway route to 96th Street. The round trip cost is $2, or $1.50 for seniors. Shoppers can also request reserved door-to-door shuttle service if they organize a group of 10 or more people, such as student groups, co-op members or residents of retirement homes. To make an appointment, call Tom Hoover at 234-3883.

Columbia University Record -- February 23, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 17