Gentrification Highlighted: Reviewing Oak Bakeshop, the Loss of Affordable Stores in Providence’s East Side

by Victor Martelle
Updated:

Oak Bakeshop is a new place on the east side of Providence that opened its doors November 2022. It has the same founders as PVDonuts, although instead of the doughy rings, this shops has a focus on Jewish based pastries. It replaced Black & White Market & Kitchen, a corner store-like shop that sold basic goods, foods, and provided various services. Black & White was known to be fairly inexpensive, especially in comparison to much of the east side which is notorious for the opposite.

Prior to the opening of Oak Bakeshop, those around Cypress and Camp frequented Black & White as it was more affordable than the various shops in the opposing community. Indeed, Black & White was quite popular as it was the only corner store in the area. Along with the basketball court and park across the street, one could find folks walking to and from the shop, perhaps shooting some hoops. However, almost randomly, residents noticed the shop had closed without notice. Some time after, a rumored Jewish based bake shop would be taking its place, Oak Bakeshop.

The shops in question sit on the intersection of Cypress and Camp Street, which notably, are generally classified as lower-middle income neighbors, housing students and a large minority population. However, a short walk over to Hope Street and beyond strikes as the opposite, with more affluent, predominantly white, older, higher-middle to upper class residents. The community is quite clearly segregated by Camp Street of which this shop saddles, which essentially creates a line between the two communities.

Replacing Black & White, Oak Bakeshop mimics the prices and perceived quality of what other stores do in the Hope Street area, i.e., high. With a clean cut establishment and tidy décor, the shop appears to try to represent itself as more of a fine-quality bakery, nothing like what it had replaced. From teas to baked goods, it hits most of the basics you may encounter at a bakery or café. Having been accustomed to Black & White’s offerings, my visit to Oak Bakeshop led me to nearly gasp at the prices, especially for what was being served. Small portions coupled with in my opinion, ridiculous prices. The quality as well wasn’t anything to note either. And I’m not the only one, with some reviewers across Google and Yelp echoing the same alongside accessibility concerns. However, despite this, at the time of this writing, Oak Bakeshop remains around 4.5 stars on Google with most reviewers praising their tasty treats. Reviews and prices aside though, Oak Bakeshop has highlighted an unrealized issue, gentrification.

With the loss of Black & White, residents don’t have other options in the area that’s in immediate walking distance. They’re now left to travel much further, often having to utilize a car (assuming they own one) as public transit isn’t easily accessible. Already, Oak Bakeshop appears to lend itself to that wealthy, white part of the east side. The once serviceable corner store where folks would walk to, where they would hangout and play basketball across the street is now replaced by residents who live in the wealthier area commuting with their noticeable lavish vehicles. The basketball court has lost the population it once held. Ultimately, poorer folks and their represented cultures and diversity are being pushed out.

Now let’s be clear, while I personally found the prices to be absurd for what I was given and went so far as to claim that Oak Bakeshop has a role in pushing poor people out, they are not necessarily the root of the problem. Could they do better? Of course. In their defense, it’s important to note that owners have done promotions for the community at their other shop, PVDonuts (see here and here), and there was some involvement with Oak Bakeshop and a nearby community center as well as proposed cooking classes. Already, they’re doing more than the strong majority of businesses out there. However, the placement of this shop cannot be fully swept aside with a small donation here or there. Oak Bakeshop can do better but more crucially, the burden falls on our legislators.

This issue of gentrification highlights issues that aren’t often brought up in our communities. Do I have a concrete “this is will everything about gentrification”? Absolutely not. In fact, gentrification does have its positives, and to the highlight the point of all this, I believe the negatives brought about can be ironed away with a bit of finesse and consideration from our representatives. This will almost certainly involve local businesses, community members, and residents from all areas. From zoning, affordable housing and rent controls, implementing more walkable streets and better public transit, all the way to how much businesses have an obligation to service and adjust to their local communities will almost certainly be need for consideration. There’s several reputable sources out there that have suggestions as well, including the CDC and Harvard.

In summary, I want to fully state that Oak Bakeshop isn’t the root of the issue, more so, it highlights a rampant problem that hasn’t quite been addressed yet. My personal review of them remains, the quality of their offerings do not in anyway match their prices. It’s especially disheartening to see others in my community with the same thoughts as well as no longer having access to more affordable nearby stores. Ultimately, we need acknowledgement from our representatives, and we as a community and businesses need to work together to find a way to preserve lost culture and pushing poorer folks out.

*Note: This content is also published on my other site.


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