Skarsgard Farms (formerly Los Poblanos Organics) delivered turnips and beets to my front porch last week. Seeing these root vegetables side by side in my refrigerator gave me a hankering for Lebanese-style pickled turnips with beet juice. Since there was just a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar left in my larder (I mostly use it for cleaning), I decided to stop at Lowe’s and pick up more vinegar en route to my weekly baguette stop at the French Rivera Bakery on Fourth Street.
I am not a one-stop-shopper!
I had noticed remodeling at Lowe’s Grocery downtown, and quite frankly, I've been avoiding it for that reason. DCF readers have strong opinions about Lowe’s, and I’m part of that crowd – Lowe’s is my go-to spot for fresh corn tortillas when the New Mexico Tortilla Factory is closed, and where I get my Mexican dried spices and queso fresco, cotija, y asadero cheese.
I walked in ready to charge down the aisle, grab my gallon of white vinegar and dash out the door.
But when I walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks. Not only had the store layout changed, but the offerings had gone seriously upscale. It seems that the flurry of discussion on Duke City Fix a while back had become reality, thanks to Susan's efforts.
I found the condiment aisle, located the shelves housing the vinegar selection, and stared. NO white vinegar. Instead, there was cherry balsamic vinegar (I have both blueberry and raspberry balsamic vinegar in my larder), rice wine vinegar (I’ve got that too!), balsamic garlic vinegar, and just above that, soy ginger wonton strips plus stuff I’d never seen before in this Lowe’s. Ever.
Looking down the aisle, I noticed a row of bottles of my favorite mineral water Gerolsteiner! It was priced way too high for my budget, so I passed on it and bought the Pellegrino instead. (Note to Lowe's manager: please reduce the price -- it isn't close to competitive pricing for Gerolsteiner in this city!)
I decided to cruise around the store and see if Lowe’s had dispensed with the Mexican spices in their move to attract the Albuquerque Country Club demographic and downtown foodies. I am delighted to report that this selection has survived intact – you can still get bulk Mexican oregano, dried corn husks, and panela here!
But my heart fell when I saw that the shelves of tortillas were g-o-n-e! As in, disappeared! Vanished!
I chalked it up to progress and cried a little tear for the Lowe’s-that-once-was, rationalizing that apparently discerning downtown palates don’t care about tortillas, even though salsa has become the number one condiment in the U.S. (I’ll keep mum on what passes for salsa in other parts of the country, except to say that Sadie’s Not So Hot is at least four notches higher on the Scoville scale than “salsa” in Washington DC.)
As I made my rounds, I found white vinegar – not in a food aisle, but in the cleaning section next to the replacement sponge mop heads and dishwipes. I picked up the gallon (pictured above) and headed to the front of the store.
I paid for my vinegar, delighted to see that the Lowe’s staff had remained the same in the remodel, and asked about tortillas in Spanglish – the lingua franca of Lowe’s the whole time I’ve been going there. (I have a hazy new-baby-sleep-deprived memory of the store changing hands in the 90s – was this just a dream? Does anyone remember what it was before it was Lowe’s?)
The cashier told me to check with the manager, pointing in the direction of the construction on the far west side of the store. I sauntered over to the guys in ties, complimented them on the store’s inviting remodel, and asked about the tortillas. Before I completed my sentence, the store manager swept his arm towards the nearest aisle and pointed to the shelves and shelves of locally made tortillas! (Lowe’s knows their customer demographic!)
I’m excited that should I need to pick up a bottle of cherry balsamic vinegar or stock up on olives at the olive bar, I can now head to my closest neighborhood grocery store. At the same time, I’ve got mixed feelings about what this means for this part of downtown. I suspect this heralds more economic development and gentrification.
I chose to plant roots in Barelas despite my worries about becoming part of the gentrifying class – it reminded me of the working class immigrant roots of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles where generations of my family lived long ago. I love having neighbors who speak a mix of languages and who hail from all parts of the globe. I relish the crazy patchwork quilt of workers and artists and writers and farmers.
The crazy quilt balance is shifting from calico sprigged cotton to velvet as I move into my second decade of life in Barelas – I no longer see the bearded guy in the pink muumuu pushing his shopping cart down Fourth Street, and I see more joggers and mountain bikers in expensive gear making their way down my street at the lunch hour than I’ve ever seen before.
So far no one has complained about my neighbor Trini’s sideline of working on cars in the evenings and weekends – the single moms in Barelas know he’ll do honest work for a fair price – and there also isn’t yet any grousing about the noise of the mariachi band playing at the storefront church down the street.
I am crossing my fingers that Barelas will keep its ‘live and let live’ countenance as the march toward gentrification continues. I am perhaps naively hopeful that the eagerness of mis vecinos to call on, comfort, and cook for my recently widowed neighbor will be emblematic of this neighborhood’s joie de vivre for years to come.
¡Viva la vida de Barelas!