Storefront communities in urban areas, comprising small, individually-owned stores, represent a unique space for interaction between different ethnic and social groups. These shopping streets, once thought to be doomed by competition from larger chain stores, now play an increasingly significant role in the life of urban communities—particularly in the civic and social life of African American and Latino communities, acting as centers of immigrant life and ethnic culture. Such communities can give a neighborhood a distinctive cultural character – thought to be “artistic” or “authentic – and this can attract gentrification. However, public policies encouraging gentrification ignore the social mismatch between store owners and their new customers. As neighborhoods become more diverse, the storefront communities provide a space for interaction, but also a potential source of conflict over who “owns” a neighborhood, when new ethnic groups move into the area and open or take over businesses. These urban spaces, shaped by the forces of immigration, globalization and gentrification, are in many ways where diversity is produced, experienced, and contested.
Previous research has focused primarily on the economic importance of immigrant businesses in these areas. Philip Kasinitz and Sharon Zukin from the City University of New York will conduct a study of the cultural relevance of storefront communities. They will conduct studies of urban shopping streets in two North American cities, examining changes in products and services, ownership and management of retail, and the relationship between these changes and shifts in the local residential population. They plan to examine five types of capital possessed and exchanged between actors in these communities: the economic capital of investors, the political capital of the state, the social capital of new entrepreneurs from different social and ethnic groups, the symbolic capital of the media, and the cultural capital of consumers’ tastes.
Kasinitz and Zukin’s project will be part of a larger, international study of storefront communities in six cities in North America, Europe, and East Asia. The project is designed to expose similarities in the development of both ethnic shopping enclaves and the process of gentrification across the sites examined and shed light on whether diversity is experienced in the same ways across cities, regions, and economic systems. RSF funding will help to support a workshop where research teams from all six projects will meet to lay out plans for the international study.