The phrase translates roughly to Dominican (Quisqueya) corner store (Colmado) and they quite different than the standard New York Deli/Bodegas. The colmados are larger and have more traditional groceries and sundries where the delis usually have a place to cook and tend to stock more beers and fast food items. More importantly, the neighborhood colmados have social scene out front, where older gentlemen gather and while away the day. As with so many other immigrant neighborhoods, West Harlem keeps much of the flavor of her primary demographic. It was a bit of a culture shock when I first arrived, now I find it comforting, even though I am still very much the outsider.
I would guess places like this don’t have much longer to live. The neighborhood is gentrifying rapidly. Seven years ago, when I moved in, I could walk for blocks seeing nothing but Dominican stores and local businesses all catering to Dominican clients. Today we have Duane Reade, Dunkin Donuts and trendy little cafes and coffee houses popping up all around. Columbia University fought a long battle to acquire the rights for a campus expansion in Manhattanville, a few blocks south of my apartment. In my own building, where once we were the only Anglos in the building, now there are more white people than Dominican. By the time the University finishes their expansion, the neighborhood will be indistinguishable from Morningside Heights. There isn’t much doubt in the minds of the people their neighborhood is changing irrevocably and they won’t have a place in what is to come.
I have mixed feelings about the transformation. I enjoy the new services and social scenes gentrification brings, indeed the arrival of the Chipped Cup brings a place where I can go enjoy a cup of coffee and write in the vein of my long missed Soho Tea and Coffee in Dupont Circle. On the other hand, this neighborhood has been Dominican for many years and seeing these good people slowly being forced out makes me sad. In seven years, I never felt as though I was unwelcome or disliked, until the waves of gentrification started. Where once I was an adventurous Anglo making my home amongst the Quisqueyano, now I am part of the people pushing them out.
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