Almost every evening, with my roommate’s dog in tow, I walk around my inner-city neighborhood for a while, usually ending up at the S&S Grocery on N.W. 16th and Youngs. One of the highlights of my day is saying hello to the guy working the night-shift, a personable young man from the Ivory Coast. I pay a buck or two for my Sugar-Free Red Bull and head home in the dying light of the Sun.
In Oklahoma City, many people like to waste their time arguing about which convenience store is better: OnCue or QuikTrip; I don’t have either in my area—and probably never will—so why bother? Instead, deep among the boarded-up houses and abandoned duplexes in my neighborhood, we’ve got Oklahoma’s own version of an East Coast bodega.
Sure, they may not have artisan pizza, premium gas or even a decent cup of coffee, but for this small cross-cut of town, the immigrant owners of S&S have stayed in the neighborhood through the good and (especially) the bad, eagerly supplying the area’s denizens with their most basic needs at an affordable price, all within walking distance of only a couple of blocks.
While many convenience stores—be them the corporate bad boys or independent little guys—often seem to stick to the visible main roads and busy intersections of town, these small bodegas are often located in the most intense of urban blighted areas, tending to stay in the middle of a neighborhood, getting to know the same faces that walk through their doors, day in, day out.
With a dusty rack of duplex cookies, taco shells and ramen noodle cups, these businesses keep busy by stocking up on fresh toiletries, eastern medicines, new batteries and, above all, tasty snacks, many of which are not carried in your typical grocery store; as a matter of fact, these stores are usually the only place around the city to find Rap Snacks and Salsa Brava Takis and whatever new novelty energy drink that’s all the rage among the youth these days—here it’s a purple drink with the late DJ Screw’s name on it.
But, even more than the precious items for sale, probably the reason why people continue to frequent these stores is because of the owners themselves and their employees. While they don’t take too kindly to thieves and shoplifters—of which there are plenty of in my area—I’ve seen them, more often than not, have a friendly rapport with just about everyone in the neighborhood, from small children to the staggering drunks, often knowing their regular’s names and irregular buys.
And, like those bodegas that you’d find in cities like New York and so on, these tiny centers of commerce truly are the capitalist lifeblood of the neighborhood, the only place around to buy lottery tickets, cans of Shasta Tiki Punch, nudie playing cards or even a small bottle of imported ginseng root, usually until about midnight; for a community that is mostly foot-reliant for transportation out of pure necessity instead of hipster fashion, a store like this can be an absolute blessing.
So, even if it’s buying just a twenty-five cent stack of Watermelon Now and Laters to gnaw on for the walk home tonight, support your neighborhood convenience store if you got one; they truly are a dying breed in Oklahoma City.