Author: Kevin Liu
From York Boulevard to the Marketplace, Berry Bowl is surfing the health food movement and taking the suddenly trendy neighborhood of Highland Park by storm. The problem is, most of neighborhood’s residents are not who Berry Bowl is catering to. The store markets itself to a clientele that can afford its “Organic. Raw. Natural.” mission, but its emphasis on sustainability and ethical food practices are catalysts for displacement.
With its $7.95 regular-sized bowl and $8.99 smoothies, Berry Bowl is hardly affordable to the average Highland Park household, which has a median income of $45,478, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“The typical customer is … definitely a lot of local scenesters it seems like, and moms, white moms, and there’s a lot of Oxy students,” Berry Bowl Shift Supervisor Cameron Tyme Edison said.
While enjoying enjoy Berry Bowl’s açai berry bowls, smoothies and juices, many Occidental students ignore the effects of their spending. Gentrification is rampant in Highland Park, and has brought many wealthier, whiter families to the neighborhood. Berry Bowl is the newest addition to a series of businesses that have contributed to this growing issue.
According to Politics Professor Regina Freer, few people argue about the brand-new parks, better schools or bike lanes — yet at the same time, gentrification displaces long-time residents of the communities. For example, landlords can use the Ellis Act of 1985, a California law that allows them to “go out of business,” evict all of their tenants and replace them with those willing to pay higher rent. Alternatively, they can tear down their property to construct pricier developments. In other instances, property values soar so rapidly that the burden of property taxes is unsustainable for certain residents.
Meanwhile, Occidental has become complicit in the process of gentrifying Highland Park by actively supporting a business like Berry Bowl. Over the summer, a group of students contacted Marketplace and Event Supervisor Monica Jones and petitioned to bring Berry Bowl to the Marketplace.
“There were a bunch of kids … that asked [the owner of Berry Bowl] to reach out to me,” said Monica Jones, “We always like partnering up with the local businesses.”
According to Jones, the Marketplace stocks and sells out of 150 açai bowls Monday through Thursday and 200 on Friday alone. The York establishment even had to create an extra 2 a.m. shift in order to accommodate the influx of orders, according to Edison.
Admittedly, there is a fine line between businesses that contribute to gentrification and those contributing to the surrounding community. Elsa’s Bakery, for example, limits its impact on gentrification. For over 40 years, the company sold its famous sweet bread to Highland Park locals. When Edmundo Rodriguez and his son took over the business in 2013, they promised the previous owners that they would continue to sell sweet bread, and both have stayed true to their word.
Berry Bowl should make a similar pledge to the community. Whether it is reaching out to community members with open mic nights or adding certain menu items to promote Latino culture, Berry Bowl can do much more to engage with the community of Highland Park. Unfortunately, Berry Bowl lacks an economic incentive to change their current business model in light of its success. Like any other profit-driven venture, Berry Bowl’s first priority is bringing in good business.
Being aware of the impact of certain businesses on gentrification is just tip of the iceberg. As students, we do not have to be complicit in the process of displacement. We can petition Berry Bowl and businesses like it to reduce their impact on gentrification by controlling their prices and making a concerted effort to include the typical Highland Park resident. The onus is on Occidental students to make smart choices about how we impact our community.
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.