Buffalo Mass Shooting: Tops supermarket reopens to debate over healing, sensitivity

BUFFALO, New York — Cariol Horne started her morning outside Buffalo’s Tops Friendly Market, placing white roses at a colorful memorial to the 10 black people killed there by a white gunman two months ago.

Across the fenced parking lot, the supermarket chain’s president and employees prepared to lead the media to a preview of the renovated store on Thursday, a day before it reopens to the public.

Count Horne, a 54-year-old activist and retired Buffalo police officer, is among those in the neighborhood who say it’s too soon.

“We pretty much buy people’s blood,” she said. “I think it’s more about making people work than making them heal. … Just two months ago these people were running for their lives.”

Yet even Horne carries the mixed feelings of seemingly everyone in the community, where the store has served as a meeting place for two decades.

Her 97-year-old father, a World War II veteran, lives close enough to the market to shop on his own. The produce at Tops is fresher than the groceries available at smaller neighborhood convenience stores and bodegas, she said. she gets it

How do you decide how, when, or if to restore a mass atrocity scene to what it was before it was a crime scene? How do you help people move forward without erasing the memory of an event that rocked so many?

It’s hard enough to answer these questions when it comes to a school, a church, a synagogue. It’s different when it’s a place of business, especially when it’s in a location as central to a community as Tops in East Buffalo.

It took six months for a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, to reopen after a mass gunman killed 12 people there in 2012. It was a cinema in a suburban cinema with 16 screens.

Tops is the social hub of its neighborhood. That’s why frequent shoppers, the store’s managers and employees, community leaders and those who lost loved ones in the hail of bullets two months ago, tell The Associated Press simply: It’s complicated.

On the one hand, residents fought for years to hold a grocery store on Buffalo’s east side that had long suffered from divestments and weak economic activity. The arrival of Tops in 2003 was a godsend for what was considered a food desert.

On the other hand, polishing store fixtures and floors falls far short of addressing the systemic inequality and unhealed trauma in East Buffalo’s black community, several residents said.

Tops President John Persons said Thursday that the company started operating a free shuttle service from the neighborhood to other Tops stores the day after the April 14 shooting.

Ultimately, the management team was confident that the store’s employees and most of the area’s residents needed and wanted the store to reopen.

“I’ll be honest, these are the people that we really wanted to listen to, the people that were in the neighborhood, the people that were in the Jefferson Avenue neighborhood and the immediate community to find out what their thoughts were,” said Persons said.

The store has a soothing palate of muted grays and greens. Above the entrance are Adinkra symbols, one represents peace and harmony, another represents hospitality and generosity, and a third represents farewell and goodbye.

“Everything you see here has been stripped down to the bare walls,” Persons said. “It’s all fresh produce. This is all new gear. Everything from ceiling to floor has been repainted or redone.”

It has also been made safer with a new emergency evacuation alarm system and additional emergency exits. Outside, the parking lot and perimeter have new LED lighting.

Fragrance Harris Stanfield, a Tops customer service rep, returned to the store Thursday for the first time since the shooting. She initially struggled to get past the foyer, just inside the entrance.

“I couldn’t really cross the threshold. At that point it was just extremely overwhelming, very emotional,” Stanfield said. “But everyone was so supportive and they knew I needed a moment.”

What put her at ease were the water fountains flanking a memorial and a poem displayed honoring the victims of the shooting. At the base of the fountain, a sign reads: “To comply with requests from some of the victims’ families, their names are not included in this memorial.”

Tops says it is working with state, city and community leaders to create a permanent public monument to be installed outside of the store.

Stanfield said she understands why some believe it’s too soon to reopen.

“I think there’s still a place of sadness and sadness,” she said. “We’re still in some kind of blame room where they have to channel that energy somewhere. And so it is only concentrated here, which is entirely understandable.”

Signs reading “Community Counseling” hung on tents set up near the entrance to the store on Thursday. Residents watched from behind the fence, some angrily, as Tops executives moderated the press event.

Some of the anger stems from a feeling that not enough effort has been made to get enough votes from the community.

“Nobody goes door-to-door to ask people who live within a mile or four blocks or even two blocks of Tops, ‘Are you comfortable with that? What are you doing here?’” said David Louis, another activist who, like Horne, recognizes that others not only miss the merchandise on Tops’ shelves, but also the goodness in the aisles.

“This is such a family store, it’s so close to everyone’s home,” said Louis, who often walked the four blocks to the store in Crocs and slacks. “When I’m with Tops, I know these people aren’t judging me.”

Robert Neimeyer, director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, said reopening a mass atrocity scene can be like walking a tightrope. The Buffalo market in particular isn’t just a typical deal, he said.

“It’s really kind of a linchpin of this community and as such has tremendous cultural and practical significance,” Neimeyer said. “It’s just as important a place to live as it is to mourn.”

Still, he said, “Not every mass murder site in the United States can become a 9/11 memorial, whether it’s in Uvalde or Buffalo.”

He said store leaders would send a strong message to the community if Tops donates a portion of proceeds from food sales to a scholarship fund.

“In this way, even shopping in the store becomes an act of remembrance,” said Neimeyer.

Mark Talley, the son of Buffalo shooting victim Geraldine Talley, said he grew up with his mother in the Tops on Jefferson Avenue. Now he hopes to honor her memory through advocacy, charitable projects, and a fledgling nonprofit organization.

The 33-year-old also attended the Tops Preview event on Thursday and said he understood why there were mixed feelings.

“When I was first asked that question weeks after the incident, I said, ‘No, I want Tops closed. I just want it to be dedicated to all the loved ones there,'” Talley said.

“But if you do that, you only succumb to defeat,” he said. “I don’t want Buffalo’s east side to seem weak. I want us to get stronger. Let’s just rebuild.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/buffalo-market-reopens-tops-supermarket-mass-shooting-two-months-opening/12053282/ Buffalo Mass Shooting: Tops supermarket reopens to debate over healing, sensitivity

Alley Einstein

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