Lights off, doors locked, even though it is normal business hours. Mail and handbills scattered on the floor. An official court order taped to the door. Another long-term local business has met its demise. Europa – “the Polish butcher" – has closed.
It’s a tough block for business, the Jersey Avenue Stretch twixt Christopher Columbus and Newark, but Europa, that’s been there as long as I can remember. I’ve been here since the early 90s and at the time there were several ethnic, specialty food stores and at least three local, independent butchers. Europa was both. Gentrification is too broad a term to describe the changes city neighborhoods go through, but one by one, these businesses that were local institutions become remnants of the past, and it’s pretty difficult for a remnant to compete. People would rather shop the grocery store’s meat department then make an extra stop for better meat, especially as the meat departments upgraded.
At the same time, family owned independents have their own internal struggles. Mom and Pop want to retire and offspring have their own issues. Then there’s the landlord who generally prefer increased profits over loyalty.
Not quite a week went by until I noticed the closure. Fresh bread in a basket, still on the shelf near the window, which was also once filled with dangling sausage, pepperoni and salami. Through the window, the small statue of a butcher stood but the shelves were half empty. The closing looks abrupt. Grab what you can and get out. When everyone is gone, put up the real estate sign.
It’s sad the neighborhood could no longer support this Polish food emporium. There is still a significant polish population, enough to support two churches, annual street fairs and the Kaytn Memorial Statue, the Exchange Place landmark, but not enough to create sufficient steady customers to sustain Europa.
Death by paperwork. Figure it out in court, get a construction crew. Cannot stop change. These ethnic stores, these remnants, gave downtown its multicultural charm, overlooked components that collectively made us want to have our lives here. When they go, pieces of us go with them.
Europa is notable for being one the last to leave. They held on longer most, now reminding us we really do not know what we have until its gone.