Pioneer Market and the gentrification of the Collar City

troy food coop composite

A good thing that could be better.

By Leah the Nosher

soapbox badgeThis week, the Capital District community saw yet another email from the board of Troy's Pioneer Food Market.

They simultaneously reached out to and scolded their co-owners, saying, "If you don't spend more money, we won't stay open." They assure their members that they "share their concerns" that the co-op's product mix has shifted away from organic and natural foods, that they have ordered the general manager to shift the products back, while simultaneously "authorized [him] to reduce expenditures." They also share that after being in development since 2007, and after being in operation since October of 2010, the Pioneer Market is just now "applying to become a WIC (women/infants/children) vendor to better serve the Troy community."

What's wrong with this picture?

I wrote about my concerns in a comment here on AOA earlier this week.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a community-based food initiative that improves life in a city that's had more that its share of hard knocks, but this week's announcement from the Pioneer Food Market board brought up some old concerns about the Collar City's attempts at gentrification.

The Pioneer Food Market, "Troy's Community Food Cooperative," shares its block with a family homeless shelter and is just a few blocks away from a day shelter. The market is one block from one of the busiest bus stops in Troy, and sits a block from the entrance to the tunnel from the Route 2/Waterford bridge. A little more than 23 people of individuals and families living in the City of Troy subsist below the poverty line. And yet, Pioneer Food Market does not accept WIC and its board thinks their members might need an explanation for what WIC stands for.

Four blocks down from the Pioneer Market, DeFazio's Italian Market has stayed open for generations, and at the end of the same block, the Troy Pork Store survived for 90 years before closing its doors in 2008. Troy houses two thriving Farmer's Markets, busy, rain or shine, selling "organic and natural" products. The Rensselaer County Department of Social Services provides coupons to recipients of WIC and food stamps for fresh fruits and vegetables at these markets. And yet, Pioneer Food Market continues to struggle.

Many collars, blue and white, are long gone from the Collar City. Troy's booming manufacturing days are a distant memory. Despite this, there is much for the city to be proud of. Hope seeps in around the edges at the the outpouring of pride that is Flag Day, at the Italian American Community Center Annual Festa, the Victorian Street Walk, the Antiques District and The Arts Center of the Capital Region. The Erie Canal may be gone, but from Testos toBeirut, from the Troy Farmers' Market to Brown's Brewing, to the Eddy Foundation and Northeast Health, Troy is working to make a better future. Developers are looking at ways to bring new life and new people to the Collar City, including the new plans for downtown that open access to that riverfront that has long been the lifeblood of the city. And that's good. Right?

Schenectady enacted similar development goals through its Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, anchoring the development with Proctors. But, here's the rub: Schenectady's now-flourishing development project did not occur in a population center. Troy's proposed development does. So, developers, businesses and city planners have two choices: they can embrace the current population or they can displace the population in an effort to replace it with a wealthier, gentrified elite who don't even know what WIC stands for.

Those of us who know and love Troy continue to watch the gentrification efforts in the city with a mixture of support and suspicion.

I would like to suggest this: creating a better, safer Troy doesn't mean ignoring the needs of a population that has lived there for generations, whether they share your social class, your values, or not. A better, safer Troy means a better life for its existing population.

For Pioneer Market to exist long enough to draw in the longed-for replacement population, maybe its first goal should be engaging the population that's already there. And with the stark reality of poverty so close by, what positive changes could be made if a "Community Food Cooperative" began doing the honest work of serving a population that truly needs a downtown market in walking distance where they can purchase affordable, fresh food?

So, with genuine hope that Downtown Troy will get the neighborhood market that it needs, here are a few ideas to help with Pioneer Food Market's new commitment "to better serve the city of Troy":

+ Reach out to Cornell Cooperative Extension to learn more about their Eat Smart New York program and work together to do nutritional outreach for the community.

+ Seek a partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension's Roots to Wisdom program and Troy Community Gardens Capital District Community Gardens. Roots to Wisdom is flourishing in Schenectady County, selling its organic produce at the Schenectady Greenmarket and the Niskayuna Co-op. There is potential for Pioneer Food Market to be the bridge that joins Cornell Cooperative Extension and Troy Community Gardens, possibly in conjunction with the Commission on Economic Opportunities (CEO) and Troy or Lansingburgh High School, to build a program that will serve Troy's youth.

+ Partner with Joseph's House, the family homeless shelter with whom Pioneer Market shares its block. Give the home donations of bruised fruit or encourage co-op members to buy an extra canned good for the families living in that shelter with their children. Work with local churches and synagogues to be a part of their efforts in doing good works for the community.

+ Initiate healthy food demonstrations in the nursery schools throughout the City of Troy run by Unity House's Unity Sunshine Program. Work to provide assistance to the residents of Unity House's battered Women's shelters in the form of discontinued toiletries or regular meals at the end of the day from the Hot Bar.

+ Stock diapers, formula and affordable household supplies. It is unclear why these staples would not be carried at this local market, much as they are at Honest Weight Food Coop and the Niskayuna Coop. Regardless of the co-owners personal feelings regarding formula feeding or disposable diapers, Pioneer Market's primary goal right now needs to be staying in business long enough to help the population of Troy thrive. The market and its owners will not succeed in doing so if they continue to impose their values onto the greater community's reality. If the board and co-owners truly cannot stomach the idea in the long term, they can seek a partnership with Healthy Families of Rensselaer County in running breastfeeding workshops at a mutually agreed upon location or in making donations of cloth diapers to families.

+ Become WIC certified. Now. Pioneer Marker, its board, and its co-owners need to take a good, hard look at their community goals and values, asking themselves why a charter for a market in downtown Troy has been in existence since 2007 but is only now seeking WIC certification.

Maybe by enacting a few of these suggestions, or others like them, Pioneer Food Market: Troy's Community Food Cooperative, can become a true community food cooperative, building relationships that extend beyond socioeconomic class and value-based assumptions.

So Pioneer Market, I wish you well. I think you can succeed. But, you need to embrace Troy as she is. If you partner with other established community organizations, you will be able to work toward that collective goal of helping your city and her people reach the potential of what Troy can be.

Leah the Nosher is the author of Noshing Confessions. A cantorial soloist and educator, Leah serves as the High Holy Day Cantorial Associate at Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy, NY. From 2005-2007, Leah worked in Troy as a Family Support Worker for Healthy Families of Rensselaer County, for whom she built and managed a directory of Community Resources, and presented at the PCANY statewide conference in 2006.


I cringe at this post. Troy needs all of the gentrification it can get, asap...ambivalence towards that trend is ridiculous and will only make things worse for everyone. A better tax base would give the city more resources to allocate to improving itself, everything from better sidewalks to increased social services, cleaning up and selling abandoned properties, etc. There really is no negative side. The idea that anyone in Troy would be 'displaced' as a result of gentrification is absurd...there is such a glut of cheap housing in the city, coupled with a great bus system and walkable neighborhoods, that concerns over displacement are unwarranted. Even if growth rates were to suddenly spike to 5% or 10% (unlikely even in the rosiest of gentrification scenarios), there is more than enough housing for everyone. Gentrification is only truly an issue in places like Boston and NYC, where high rents and high cost of living coincide with extremely low vacancy rates.

As for the food co-op, they are failing because they are too expensive and offer too little that one can't get elsewhere for less. It's really that simple. I shop there now and then, but even as a higher-income individual I just can't justify spending $5 on a little box of cereal or $4 for a rotted-out organic avocado.

Question #1: Do the people who paid to be members of the Pioneer co-op really want to grocery shop elbow-to-elbow with poor people? (be honest)

Question #2 (multiple choice): A WIC participant enters Pioneer market. After browsing through a few aisles, they are most likely to say:

(a) "This place really caters to my buying preferences."
(b) "Yeah baby, kale!"
(c) "What the heck kind of food is this?"

The correct answer is (c)

I wish we lived in a world where something like the Pioneer Market is embraced by a wide swath of the population. But the fact is that it is not.

I am not a member of the Pioneer co-op, but I hope that it gets through this rough patch and is able to stay afloat (and will be able to prosper some day)

I had been under the impression that Pioneer Market was doing a better job of being a community grocery store. Sorry to hear otherwise. I've not been there yet, as I'm almost never in Troy. There's a lot of potential there... I hope they take your suggestions to heart so they can become a true community institution. Because that's really what's needed, regardless of organics, gentrification, or other political issues.

How many times do people have to be told - you don't have to be a member to shop at Pioneer.

The Erie Canal may be gone,

Whaddya mean the Erie Canal is gone? Did someone steal it yesterday?

Lock 2 in Waterford is the start of the Erie Canal, which continues all the way to Lake Erie as it always has.

If you're trying to imply that the canal is no longer an important economic driver of the region, fair enough. Though, here's a NYT article about the recent uptick in Erie Canal shipping which features a barge company headquartered in Troy.

I'm sure you mean well, but the co-op already works with cornell co-operative extension, already donates their past "use by date" food/past prime produce, and stocks pretty much every "household product" except diapers. I don't think Diapers are a silver bullet, but who knows.

WIC is a more complicated issue because of the stocking requirements/diligence required. Plus market research shows that its usually a "break-even" proposition at best...hardly a savior.

The co-op has lost a LOT of people over the past few months. If you want to get involved with anything, i encourage you to do so. Talk is cheap.

The idea that the co-op is just a few easy suggestions that any idiot could think up away from profitability or stability is simply untrue.

The reason that Defazio's and the Pork Store stayed open was because they are/were SPECIALTY STORES, the kind of stores people were willing to travel from outside of Troy to come visit...pretty much the polar opposite of what you're suggesting for the co-op.

You keep mentioning "affordable", as if the co-op is jacking up prices because it wants to have high prices...suppliers aren't going to cut small stores the same deals they give the grocery stores chains and walmart/target groceries. Small stores can never compete on prices....its why they're all out of business.

I don't think you're suggestions are all that valuable, nor your "this is so easy a caveman could do it" tone all that helpful.

If you want to help, roll up your sleeves and get to work. If you want to talk about how stupid the owners and board members have been, and try to find out who's at fault and who's the biggest idiot, then you've come to the right place. Again, I'm sure you mean well, but it seems to me that you really don't know the first thing about what you're talking about.

"I would like to suggest this: creating a better, safer Troy doesn't mean ignoring the needs of a population that has lived there for generations, whether they share your social class, your values, or not. A better, safer Troy means a better life for its existing population."

To the author of the post, well-done! This is a conversation that needs to take place more often. Local, organic foods have gotten a bad rep for being elite luxuries, accessible only to the middle and upper classes. Meanwhile, food at grocery stores is getting more expensive and further squeezing out low-income families from accessing nutritious food. The Pioneer Market is right to recognize that it needs to address the needs of the wider community; I hope that recognition didn't come too late.

connor, I think most can agree that Troy would benefit from a higher tax-base... healthy communities need a mix of incomes to thrive. In terms of gentrification and its constant companion "displacement", well, that is something to be concerned about. While it's unlikely that low-income residents would be pushed out of the city altogether (because, as you say, there is a "glut of cheap housing"), it is a very real threat that as the downtown continues to develop, those families will be driven out of the walkable neighborhoods and away from retail, services and transit. It's not inevitable, but in order to avoid displacement, early and meaningful attention should be paid to preserving housing affordability. Otherwise, the rising tide of new business, higher property taxes and greater demand for housing will drive up privately-owned property until they are no longer affordable to many long-time residents.

grandmastergus, Pioneer Market will be embraced by a large swath of the population once that choice becomes a real choice for them. If a population is priced out entirely, then they don't have a true choice. Accepting WIC vouchers is a step in the right direction.

The Troy Community Gardens organization that you link to is based in Wisconsin. I'm not sure if a partnership with them would be beneficial. A partnership with Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG) may prove to be a more beneficial relationship especially their Veggie Mobile project.

The Veggie Mobile sells produce at whole sale cost in neighborhoods where it is least accessible. It has been covered here extensively. I would suggest they contact them and ask how to better market and educate low income residents of Troy on the availability of produce available and offer easy suggestions on how to cook it.

I think more than the produce they should focus on bringing attention to the bulk section and how best residents could take advantage and utilize that feature of the store.

@Wantobeanonymous - You're right, you don't have to be a member to shop at Pioneer, hence I don't say so in the article. However, with a $150 membership fee and a 2% discount, why would you want to be?

Niskayuna Co-op costs $5 to be a member, HWFC does cost around $150, but the payments can be spread out over months or even years. Additionally, HWFC offers something Pioneer does not: a unique shopping experience of a large selection of quality organic, natural and local goods that cannot be purchased anywhere else with regular discounts and sales and discounts for members dependent on the amount of physical work contributed vs. money contributed (2% with no work), and ample parking to boot.

Even if you are a member at Pioneer, with the 10% discount days taken away, and no way to earn that discount back through investiture in your "community cooperative," the 2% discount would not get you very far on $3.99 lb organic peaches. Plus, you get scolded publicly every couple of months.

@grandmastergus - I absolutely agree with you: the members of Pioneer Market do not want to shop side by side with the poor. Hence, they are in abject denial about which market business model the type of city they are choosing to call home would currently support. The market itself, the selection of goods, the prices, and the lack of WIC, smacks of a conscious or unconscious elitism. To this, one could respond, to paraphrase Rand Paul, let the free market decide.

The free market of Troy has decided, Pioneer is failing, and it is time for its shareholders to admit to themselves and the public that to call themselves "Troy's Community Food Cooperative" is pure hypocrisy.

@conner - you are right - Troy has a glut of poorly maintained, lead paint and vermin filled housing owned by absentee landlords. It is for this reason that Rensselaer County and the City of Troy have teemed up to create Trip ( which encourages through subsidy owner occupied housing.

You are also right that the only way that Troy is going to grow is by increasing their tax base. Hence, my voice of "support and suspicion" on the development efforts. Better housing and better schools are exactly what Troy needs, but Pioneer Food Market was a class driven endeavor styling itself as a community supporting organization. All I ask is that developers be open with the community and honest with themselves.

This post is such a crock of s---. It's a slam against the co-op thinly veiled to be suggestions to help it. Its true nature as a hitpiece becomes painfully obvious by reading leah's comments below.

The people who are responsible for the financially disastrous opening and first 8 months of operation of the co-op are no longer running the show. The existing board and staff aren't worried about pointing fingers, God knows there's more than enough blame to go around. We're worried about digging out of this very very deep hole.

I'm calling you out Leah. If you want to help, come to the meeting on Aug. 2nd, any other meeting, or shoot an email. Getting involved is hard, writing down your nose at a group of hard working, albeit occasionally misguided volunteers is easy. If you want to bitch from the sidelines, then do it with the recognition that you don't have a f---ing clue about this business, the people it employs, or the people who have given hundreds of hours of their free time to run it.

You tell me who's more deserving of public scorn. The people who saw an impossibly difficult challenge but put their shoulders to the task anyway because they weren't going down without a fight; or the people with "all the right answers" who decided it was more important to point out that the first group was on the verge of failure than to get involved.

I hope to see you at the Aug 2 meeting.

We stopped in for the first time over the weekend, because we were having lunch in Troy and I was curious about what all the fuss was about. And yeah, it seems like they're suffering from an identity crisis... It feels like they're trying to be an Honest Weight-type place when a regular-old neighborhood market would fit the location a whole lot better. We picked up a few dollars worth of local produce, but generally, the produce section was depressing, with rotting veggies mixed in with the good ones, and swarms of fruit flies over everything. And where's the meat? Maybe it was an active decision to limit the animal bits they sell there, but we couldn't even find a couple of chicken breasts to throw on the grill, which seems a nobrainer for me.

I really hope this place makes it, because I think it can be very good for the city I work in, but after actually seeing it, they certainly have to reevaluate the way they're doing things, imho.

First, I've never found parking a problem at the market. Not an issue, and I do not live in Troy. Second, many prices are quite competitive with the big stores, and the size of the market makes it easy to shop and get in and out quickly. Third, I have no problem shopping along side anyone else, whether they are WIC, use Food Stamps, or pay with credit cards. A diverse population is what makes cities interesting.

That said, as an owner I have been frustrated recently. Not to keep items supplied for several weeks at a time with no explanation caused me to stop shopping at the store for a period of time. Then to get the request for an additional $50 equity payment with little communication/explanation was a surprise and seemed excessive. I decided I would rather lose membership than contribute that amount.

Some people have more time than money in this economy. Which leads me to my last point. It does not seem like the market wants to use owners time. I tried to volunteer before it opened but was turned away. I have never seen specific requests for owner participation through email or the FB page. No one is ever at the desk at the market. I do not feel like a co-op owner! So, I focus my energy elsewhere.

I still shop at the market, but it isn't always my "shop here first" place anymore. And I do hope it succeeds, it is important for a city like Troy.

I think all those concerned about this issue should spend some time shopping in the Delaware Avenue Price Chopper, aka "The Ghetto Chopper." I'm being serious. I live down the street from there, and buy most of my food there, and am in and out of the store sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. (Can't do large shopping when walking and carrying!)

It comes to mind largely because I am still shocked at how many people refer to the store as the "Ghetto Chopper" despite their usual PC selves. I love my circle of Honest Weight-working friends, and go there for a few items, but they are truly perplexed and even concerned when I tell them I shop at the Chopper regularly, and even admit loyalty to the place. Food snobbery is out of control all over the place.

To put it bluntly: I am the minority there most days when I am waiting on line, often for a very long time. A white, single, professional woman with no children. I am also a minority in that I buy a lot of the newly stocked and test run organic items. The Chopper here has the reverse challenge of the Pioneer Market--its slowly introducing more "upscale" and organic items to the smaller constituency that desires and buys these things. Honestly, I was on line the other day, and the checkout girl asked me what hummus was. "Everyone's buying that! What's it taste like?" So I tried to explain and encouraged her to try it. Friends of mine also joke that on more than one occasion, the clerks have not known a lemon from a lime. Sometimes this is just plain stupidity, but more often its the reflection of deep class and cultural divides, which get broached every time they ring up my extra firm tofu.

Shopping at the Chopper is notoriously dysfunctional. It can take FOREVER to check out even when there are only two people on line. But its my neighborhood market, and I like walking there, and its a place in Albany where people are brought together because of food rather than divided. It also gets me out of my well-tread path from wine bar to university to spectrum theater. There are LOTS of different types of people living in this city and this is one place where I am forces to remember and navigate that.

Spend some time shopping there and you'll see the rewards and challenges of a local supermarket that caters to a truly urban population, many of whom walk to it, or must take cabs to and fro. I hate the enormous super choppers and hannafords and argue that the "Getto Chopper" still retains its character as local, and run largely by and for the community. As troubled as it is, I think it serves as more of a model for an urban market than HWFC ever could.

I was going to ignore this because it seems like a lot of yapping from people that have little to no contact with the co-op or its membership base but this, from Leah, is ridiculous "I absolutely agree with you: the members of Pioneer Market do not want to shop side by side with the poor."

Really? I did not know that about myself. Nor any of the other members of the market that I've met at meetings that were excited to have an alternative for people that have limited access to grocery stores. How many times have you shopped in this market? Have you actually seen anyone scampering away or glaring at a "poor" person? Have you ever heard anyone shopping at the market complaining about letting in the riff-raff? Because it doesn't seem like you have a good idea of the products or services that it offers. In your comment under the other article written about the potential failing of the Pioneer Market you opined about how they don't take food stamps... but they do. You complain about the lack of non-organic alternatives except for practically every item on the shelf there is a generic, cheaper alternative. As I understand it you aren't a member and yet you presume to know enough about us to paint us with a pretty broad and shitty brush.

And don't give me that "well they probably aren't saying it but they're thinking it and not shopping there" crap.

@ Slacker- they aren't trying to be Honest Weight. The membership model is different and it stocks generic, cheaper, non-organic options next to organic options. Regarding the meat, esp the chicken breasts- it's hard to keep stocked because people buy it. And then it's gone until the next shipment. There's no way the selection can't be limited compared to Price Chopper or Hannaford. The entire space of the Market can fit into a chain grocery store's customer service department... Shopping at a smaller market requires flexibility.

@ Lauren regarding the bulk section- totally agree. Bulk shopping was new for me and kind of daunting at first.

Frankly, the problem that I see with the Market is they don't sell beer. Get a license, stock beer, sell beer, PROFIT.

I recently took a job near the co-op and will be moving there shortly, so I decided to check it out. I was taken aback by the high fees and low discount one gets- I looked the same day it was announced that they would be cutting the 10% owner's day. It didn't seem very promising based on that alone, but I went down there anyway.

I was taken a back by a couple of things. First and foremost, the ordinary store products- Secret deodorant, Coca-cola, and other things that shouldn't be sold at a co-op, IMO- out and in abundance, at prices that were higher than most other stores. I don't care about paying more, but not if it's for something I can find at any CVS/Price Chopper for a buck less. I couldn't even find henna, a common co-op item, and that miffed me a lot.

Second, the fact it was lunch time but there were no hot foods. At all. Trays were there, names were there, but the trays were clean and empty.

Third, the 3 minute wait I had while I had to wait for the teenaged cashier to finish his conversation and check me out. Since I doubt he was a volunteer, that bothered me.

I don't know if I'll go back, based on those things.

@mike - Wow. I hit a nerve. I'm glad I was able to do so without calling anyone stupid, an idiot or implying anyone was a caveman.

I may have called folks class biased. I'm going to stand by that, though apologize for the tone @Wanttobeanonymous, @grandmastergus and @conner got hit with.

Not you, though, Mike. I'm kind of an eye for an eye kind of gal when it comes to comment tone. And you're not getting an apology.

I live in Schenectady County and frequent the Niskayuna Coop, and travel down to HWFC for our annual bulk food stock up. I work in Troy regularly, and have stopped in Pioneer with the hope of buying from the ready foods selection or picking up a few groceries on the way home. I stand by my assertion that nearly Pioneer Food Market items all are priced high for the same quality and selection that I can purchase elsewhere, including non-organic items and household items. Diapers and formula are the silver bullets for families, regardless of income, by the by.

And while take out food is plentiful in Troy, I do understand the draw that an organic, locally sourced hot meal must have.

Because, unfortunately for you, Mike, I do know what I'm talking about in that bigger picture kind of a way, the one that looks at the gentrification of Troy through the lens of the Pioneer Market. The whole situation really is a great microcosm of the current conflict between the haves and the have-nots in Troy. Though I don't know all of the outreach efforts made to the greater community that the Pioneer Food Market has made since its charter in 2007, or since its opening 8 months ago, I do know the food industry, I do know Troy, and I do know that Pioneer did $40,000 per week in sales last month. And I know what those stark numbers mean in terms of the market's current viability.

I am glad to hear that the current Board and involved owners have recognized that things need to change in order for the market to "better serve the city of Troy."

@All - thanks for thinking and talking about the issue. The article was not intended as a "hit piece," believe it or not. More of a scolding into shape and a vehicle to spur needed dialogue into order to create change within a much needed resource: a viable Community Food Market in Downtown Troy.

Leah, we don't need to be scolded into shape. We're not children, and you're not our mothers. I don't want an apology. I'm here to show people that there is no easy fix, you want to peddle snakeoil and have superficial discussions about the co-op because thats the only kind you're equipped to have. It's going to take hard work, and probably more of it than anyone can stand. The co-op is a volunteer run business. Say the word and I'll do my damnedest to get you a seat on the board, where you can do more than talk.

The world's got plenty of scolders, dialougers, and rhetoricians crying about changing the world. In fact, the co-op has more than its fair share. We need doers. Here's your chance to get involved if you care...saying "I'm too busy" or "I don't have time" is just another way of saying "I don't care." In fact, since you know the "food industry" so well, you're exactly the type of person we need!

You want to call people class biased, that's just a polite way of calling someone a bigot and frankly, its disgusting. I live in Troy, and not on second street or the ritzy part of town. My friends and neighbors are all races and socio-economic backgrounds, that's why i chose to live in a city instead of some cookie cutter suburb....I'm not scared of brown people or poor people, and by and large neither are the owners of Pioneer.

At least you have the common sense to be ashamed of living in lily white Niskayuna or Glenville while calling Trojans bigots (that "Schenectady County" characterization fools exactly no one).

I made a point of letting the discussion play out a little before deciding whether or not to share, but I feel like some of the comments here deserve a good finger wagging from this Trojan.. so, in order of appearance:
@connor: Rapid gentrification is not a 'sure bet' as you suggest, and considering myself both a gentrifier and a low income resident, this would push myself and a large core of the residents who make a difference in the Troy community out - I am thinking of dedicated people like Troy Bike Rescue, The Sanctuary for Independent Media, etc., not to mention the numerous friends who are actively working to build community and become first time home owners in Troy. In my experience, rapid gentrification is often matched by a loss of community. This would be very sad to me - the sense of community is exactly why I love Troy (and exactly why I didn't like living in Albany, Saratoga, or Schenectady).
@grandmastergus: Your questions made my jaw drop. I am embarrassed for you - they are both ignorant and intolerant. Please crawl out from under that rock you are living under.
@Leah & Mike: Play nice! It seems that you both are writing about the subject because you care and you want the co-op to succeed, and so I am confused about how you so quickly became enemies.. lets be constructive here, not accusatory please!
now for some comments I can get behind:
@Lauren: Using the Veggie Mobile model is a good idea - I think the key to making the co-op more appealing to residents is providing education/recipes. In fact I think that would be particularly helpful for the dry bin offerings: refine the selections to be geared toward affordable, practical meals and provide recipes that people can take with them. I am a skilled cook and would be happy to give a demo or make copies of a recipe. In fact, I know other members that I bet would be happy to do the same.
@Casey: I second that beer = profit. I would definitely rather buy beer from the co-op than from the corner store, and I would undoubtedly pick up additional snacks along with my 6 pack. Win-win.
My shopping habits vary greatly and buy food items from a host of various places either because I can find the item dirt cheap (asian market, ocean state) or because I am looking for quality (farmer's market, honest weight), but I live two blocks from Pioneer, I shop there regularly, and would be really disappointed to see them disappear. Hang in there Pioneer, I think you need to continue reinventing the wheel because it isn't quite working, but please don't give up yet!

@ mike

(that "Schenectady County" characterization fools exactly no one).

Nice one! I was thinking the same thing: a suburbanite pontificating on the evils of gentrification -- too rich. The only thing that would top that is if she were also an urban planning professor.

Since gentrification keeps coming up in this thread, I wanted to share some ideas on the topic.

I talked with James Howard Kunstler about gentrification a while ago. Here are some excerpts from a much larger conversation which you might find interesting (all quotes are JHK):

"Cities are not just for poor people. Cities have to be the responsibility of people of all classes but particularly the well-off, because if rich people can’t take care of their towns, who can?"


"When the city is only composed of poor and struggling people, they become the only constituents for the government. So you get another round of having to find some way to subsidize housing for them. That becomes a vicious circle."


"So it would be a mistake for us to think that cities are only for poor people, and that urban only means a certain ethnic group, and that our cities will never be something else. I think that they will be something else. I think that they'll be smaller, but they’ll be finer, and that all the classes of people will be inhabiting the cities. There will also be people who are doing OK living in the cities. And if we’re lucky, the people who are doing OK will feel responsible for the people who are not doing OK and maybe do a little bit more for them, a little bit better."

Karamia, did you even read my post? I was suggesting pretty much the opposite of the opinion you assigned to me. Also, you cannot be both a gentrifier AND a low-income resident. In what way could you possibly be gentrifying anything??

Also, gentrification doesn't = loss of community, it simply replaces one community with another! Unless you think poor communities are the only ones that 'matter?'

Duncan Crary - yes!

@ conner

Also, gentrification doesn't = loss of community, it simply replaces one community with another!

Well, rich people do not necessarily have to "replace" poor people in a city. If you were to go back in time in Troy, you'd encounter rich people and poor people all living in the same neighborhood -- on the same property lots or even in the same building.

You had servants living in the servants quarters in the house and above the carriage houses. And you had tenants living in the spaces above businesses and in accessory apartments.

Through our modern zoning codes, and our punitive real estate tax codes (which punish you for improving your building and generating more rent from it), we've prevented many of the more "organic" living arrangements that used to provide integrated dwelling places for people of all classes.

That's why you see so many newer buildings that are only one story high, with only a retail business or fast food restaurant on the first floor and no living spaces above.

Ever since we started doing things this new way (which is to say: the suburban model of disaggregation), we've had to provide "affordable housing" as an artificial commodity, because we're too stupid, or we have too much PC guilt, to provide affordable housing organically.

And how do we now provide affordable housing for the poor instead?

We stick them all in the same housing projects -- a monoculture of concentrated poverty, where all your neighbors are struggling like you and can't offer work or other kinds of support...or expose you to new ideas and music and culture. (The rich and the middle class are also mostly living in their own monocultures today, and are suffering for it as well, for different reasons).

The earlier way was better in many ways. And could be improved upon.

Now, we don't have many "servants" in our society any more. In part because we have cars instead of horses, and because we have the Pioneer co-op instead of a backyard garden with livestock. But we do still have live-in healthcare providers. And in the future, we may see more situations where "handymen" and "groundskeepers" and "nannies" etc. start to live-in the same houses or the same lot where their employers live. Room and board might even comprise the bulk of their salaries.

'Cause let's face it, our country is going broke. And the cost of energy will likely continue to rise, making suburbia an impractical way of life.

We need to start thinking about making other arrangements. And we need to get over some of our fears of "gentrification" in the cities. Troy is a city that's only 2/3 occupied. We've got a long way to go before we need to start worrying about displacing anyone. And maybe instead of displacing anyone, we'll all be in this together.

Right now, however, we have a situation where folks try to make rich people feel bad about moving into a city. So what other options does that leave them? The suburbs or the "country." That doesn't help poor people at all. It's just another factor that has turned cities, suburbs and the country into ghettos for the different classes.


Appreciate the urban planning 101 spiel, but I'm a graduate of one of those programs (unfortunately), so the party line has been drilled into my head pretty well by now.

What I meant by my comment is that 'new' communities of wealthier residents will replace some poorer communities at the neighborhood and street level, not the entire city. And the fact is, the poorer, the wealthier and the in-between (to the extent that that class will exist in the future), just don't mix socially, even if they live on top of each other. Never have, never will - different values, cultures, you name it. Is that a bad thing? Not always. I doubt that the return to mixed use and all that jazz will ever solve the problem. People like their own kind (and monocultures, if you will), - exclusion is the essence of every community!

My view is simply that the attraction of as many wealthier residents to Troy as possible is one of its only hopes of financial solvency and civic improvement. Its bond rating (along with Cohoes) is in the toilet, so really the money is where its at right now.

@ Duncan- very interesting reading.

@ everyone- I have nothing constructive to add after my beer comment so I give you this:

@ connor

Appreciate the urban planning 101 spiel

Heh heh.

I take that as a high compliment. I've never studied urban planning in a classroom.

This stuff should all be pretty obvious, 101 level...but it isn't. Especially to the people delivering and managing our urban environments.

the party line has been drilled into my head pretty well by now.

I'm glad to hear these concepts (New Urbanism, or just plain Urbanism) have become "party line" now. I was under the impression that the American Planning Association doesn't mention the New Urbanism by name.

Keep up the good fight.


"Leah, we don't need to be scolded into shape. We're not children, and you're not our mothers."

We'll remember that the next time a letter comes out signed by the Co-Op board telling its members they "need to" X Y and Z.

Your defensive tone betrays something here. And you may not want to be scolded, but the tone was set long ago and it wasn't by people on the internet. It was set by the people you meet with on a regular basis.

The fact of the matter is that this is a business and requires a business solution. A horse by committee becomes a camel, and that's exactly what's happened with Pioneer Market. Organic high-end eatery or affordable alternative for your neighbors? Pick one. Because despite any insistence otherwise, they can't have it both ways.

First and foremost, I am very encouraged by the mention of a public meeting on August 2nd to discuss exactly these issues. Is that indeed what this meeting will be? If so, where can we find more information?

In reading all of this, I was thinking exactly what Kevin said at the very end of his post:

"Organic high-end eatery or affordable alternative for your neighbors? Pick one. Because despite any insistence otherwise, they can't have it both ways."

I believe that Downtown Troy needs a grocery store, because it goes a long way toward making it possible to live in the area without a car. Other people who live car-free either by necessity or choice (or simply prefer to walk) likely feel the same way, and welcome Pioneer in that capacity.

Still, many people who want to see Pioneer thrive can afford a car which takes them to existing grocery stores, and what they're looking for is supplemental: specialty, organic, and consequently expensive.

Regardless of where you stand, the "us" and "them" language at play in much of this conversation is clumsy and ineffective. I don't think many people are qualified to make broad generalizations about the feelings of Coop members, or of poor people. I certainly am not.

Leah: To "scold" people because their idea of what is good for Troy is different than yours, because their values are different, is in direct conflict with what you're asking others to do. I believe that you wrote this piece with Troy's best interest at heart, but I hope that you can understand how the scolding tone you took worked against you. If we begin a conversation combatively, combat is exactly what we'll get.

As a community, we are grappling with differing values, and the differences are much more varied than rich or poor, involved or unbiased, big picture or logistical. To frame the argument in any of these dichotomies is unfair.

What I'm trying to say is that to want an organic alternative more than another grocery store is not necessarily better or worse than wanting a affordable local grocery over a specialty market. It is a difference of opinion. The fact of the matter is that both needs exist, and I think it's safe to say that Pioneer is not currently serving either of them very effectively.

It is my personal opinion that this business can't do both, and I think it's entirely reasonable to ask them to choose one and to do it well. And if they do, and they succeed, I hope that the rest of us are ready and willing to work toward getting the other need met.

As a bit of a side note, I have purchased produce from Pioneer which was grown by Capital District Community Gardens. This demonstrates some kind of partnership between the two, though I don't know the details of the arrangement.

Yikes! I will leave the socioeconomic issues to our panel of experts. My comment relates to the actual co-op experience.

I live in Troy, and my income is high enough to afford the prices at the Pioneer Market. I buy the same 15-20 items every time I go in there. I often shop at Honest Weight as well (primarily to buy cheese), and occasionally Hanafords if it's after 8 pm (I frequently buy groceries after 8 pm due to work). However, I make every effort to shop at Pioneer, but that's just not always possible.

The biggest problems that I have with Pioneer are the location, the interior layout, and that piped-in music (seems petty, I know).

The location is bad for car owners. Many residents of Troy who work do so in Albany, so they drive home after work. I think that a modest, well-lit, street-facing parking lot would have made the place more accessible. Also, walking there is not always pleasant, particularly after dark. That bus-stop corner (and that crappy bodega on the corner) can be depressing and sketchy.

My opinion: I think the choice of location could have been better. It is not a very inviting location.

The interior is too bright, somewhat sterile and does not feel like a "hippie" community-based food co-op to me. I much prefer the Honest Weight lighting, color scheme, etc. I agree that Pioneer seems to have an identity conflict.

I'm sorry, but I cannot stand the music that they play in there. It's some kind of subscription-based loop/cycle of oddly-assorted popular music that seems completely out of context. I find it annoying and somewhat depressing.

Either keep it really highbrow (the Classical music station), or turn it off completely. (just my opinion)

The aesthetic of the place seems out of sync with that of the Troy Farmer's Market, Honest Weight, "hippie/artsy/yuppie crap", etc. The place seems to have been designed and created by a small group of "visionaries", but I am not sure if that vision is "appreciated" by enough people to keep the place viable.

All that said, he people who work there are extremely friendly, and the place always seems clean. We'll see what happens...

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