So long, Tom Boy…

Tom Boy

So Tomboy Supermarket  (some might say the ‘notorious’ Tomboy Market) is no more.

Perusing the handful of articles and posts about the location over the years offer a conflicted portrait of the El Moore’s rugged neighbor on the east side  opposite corner of Second Avenue. If there is any kind of common thread among the commentators, it’s safe to say there is agreement that Tom Boy Market would never be confused with Whole Foods. But then again, that was never Tom Boy’s intention. It’s true the market was known for awhile to be a bubbling hub of seamy activity that had little to do with grocery shopping. Hookers, pimps, junkies, and other regulars of the once-upon-a-time Cass Corridor that now seems to be fading into the rear view mirror hovered constantly in the vicinity, as if attracted by a rather perverse gravitational pull. Perhaps the definitive piece on Tomboy Market, a tribute to its notoriety of sorts, was published in the Metro Times in 2009.

The store is run by Jitu Patel, 28, whose customers often have to pass through a gauntlet of street people to get groceries.

“This place, I think, it’s been here way too long,” Jitu says, “so everybody knows if you’re going to meet somebody, hundreds of people know about Tom Boy, so meet me over here.”

Tom Boy has been here since the 1950s, the last local branch of an old chain. The neighborhood it’s in is home to the down-and-out and those who feed their habits. They all wound up here in the city’s longtime Skid Row with others who are just like them. And many make their living in the Tom Boy parking lot.

“It can’t be stopped, the drug deals and stuff, unless you have police 24-7 in the same spot,” Jitu says. “That’s the only way to stop it, and that’s not going to happen in truth. But the police try.”

But it is also interesting to sample the variety of commentary from the less professional writing types who nevertheless offer some rather potent viewpoints on Tomboy’s existence – and whether or not that existence should have bee permitted to continue. For example, these two comments, also written in 2009, from Detroit YES!

“This wanna-be Market is a CANCER to a progressive community located on Second Av. I can smell the spoil meat and garbage from walking across the street, 6 lanes across. The place smell like a dirty mop and a wet dog. WHERE’S THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT!!?? Does it exist in Detroit? OMFG! Why are they still open and why do we allow poor services and dusty expired can foods around here? The place looks like its vacant, trash everywhere, and crack-heads passed out drunk on the curb. They’re robbing the community of money and not putting it back. This is NOT acceptable in the suburbs, WHY here in the city?”

And then came this simple yet direct reply…

You live in that area, you have no car, you have no other place to shop, you might be happy that place is there.

But now it’s gone. Says author Sarah Cox in an Oct. 2 post on Curbed Detroit:

A dilapidated corner market in midtown is dunzo thanks to Midtown’s high-end retail rush. Arguably, it all started with Shinola, a high-end bikes and watches shop. Then we got high-end clothing (Willys) and an announcement about a high-end barber shop (Fellow Barber). Today Tom Boy market had “Store Closed” notices posted and a Midtown Inc rep confirmed that the building would become home to high-end retail.

So what does this mean for the El Moore neighborhood? Despite the raggedy, rundown appearance of Tomboy, there are still those who wonder where its former patrons are supposed to get their groceries. Certainly Whole Foods won’t work, and whatever replaces Tomboy is likely to be ‘high end retail’, which means off-limits to Cass Corridor locals.

So what does a neighborhood in transition mean to you?