New Rochelle store opened to combat food insecurity. Then police shot a man over stolen food.
Two teenage boys carefully picked ripe curly kale leaves on a sunny July morning at New Rochelle’s Lincoln Park.
Standing between raised beds lush with eggplant, peppers and purple string beans, Linda Tarrant-Reid, 74, instructed the boys, Jarell Jones, 18, and Jack Monahan, 17, to discard withered leaves. Those would be composted for the urban garden’s raised beds, tended to by Tarrant-Reid’s nonprofit, the Lincoln Park Conservancy.
“It will degrade and enrich the soil,” she told Jones and Monahan, who respectively each had his white tee and face caked in dirt. Jones and Monahan, part of the city’s summer internship program, would also harvest collard greens and lettuce for a food distribution the next day, July 14, at the Lincoln Towers, an affordable housing building for seniors that abuts the garden.
That Friday marked a week since the neighborhood’s only grocery store, New Rochelle Farms, abruptly closed its doors just down Lincoln Avenue. Protests following the fatal July 3 police shooting of Jarrell Garris, 37, who was accused of eating food from the store and leaving without paying, caused store owner Jose Filipe to shut down his business temporarily.
Garris’ death highlighted prolonged issues with access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the historically Black New Rochelle neighborhood. New Rochelle Farms embarked to feed an under-resourced community at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it has drawn scrutiny for a call that resulted in a Black man killed by police.
“When you love what you do, it’s not called a job,” Filipe, 59, told USA TODAY Network New York. “This is a part of me, and it will continue to be a part of me.”
‘The Black residential area radiates from Lincoln Avenue’
Tarrant-Reid’s Lincoln Park Conservancy has had its space since 2011. Then, the city celebrated 50 years after New Rochelle schools desegregated with a 1961 federal court case, just seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ended de jure segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. New Rochelle’s de facto Black school at the time, the Lincoln School, stood just up the hill from Tarrant-Reid’s garden. The school district razed it after the case.
A half-century ago, Tarrant-Reid’s father owned a grocery store called Mark’s Community Store — after his first name — situated where Lincoln Towers now stands.
“We were very connected, and his store was the hub of the community,” Tarrant-Reid said.
The Tarrants were one of many thriving Black business owners that opened pharmacies, restaurants and beauty parlors in what became known as the Lincoln Avenue Corridor. “The black residential area radiates from Lincoln Avenue,” a 1970 New York Times article said.
New Rochelle’s African American community had roots dating back centuries, though, during the Great Migration, many Black families settled in the New York City suburb. They created Westchester County’s largest Black community.
Tarrant-Reid’s mother worked the store during the day, while her father worked at Arnold Bakeries before he took the store’s night shift. He made weekly trips at 4 a.m. to the Bronx Terminal Market to buy produce such as collard greens, mustard greens, string beans and cabbage for the store, Tarrant-Reid recalled. The options, she said, reflected staples eaten by African American families like hers.
Tarrant-Reid and her siblings helped their parents, and the family lived in a two-story home a few blocks away that Tarrant-Reid lives in today. They went to church just down Lincoln Avenue.
Frequently, she recalled, families had credit at Mark’s so they could get fresh produce or milk if they ran out of money.
During the early to mid-20th century, the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation began the racist practice of redlining to rate areas for approving home loans based on risk. Using maps, lenders rated Black neighborhoods, like the Lincoln Avenue Corridor, in red, for highest risk.
“It seems a particularly desirable spot for Negros who desire to move from Harlem,” the 1937 HOLC report said. While it was “conveniently located,” it cited the “type of inhabitant” for its detrimental influence, giving it the lowest rating.
In turn, these ratings helped determine where to place industry and freeways in areas considered risky investments. The results dramatically altered neighborhoods.
Near Lincoln Avenue, Pugsley Hollow, the city’s oldest Black neighborhood, saw Interstate 95 and a cloverleaf interchange built over it. More than 300 families were moved as part of the project to redevelop the area, placing many into public housing. Lincoln Avenue had Memorial Highway, multiple lanes of roadway, run through it to connect major thoroughfares.
Eventually, many businesses shuttered. Mark’s Community Store closed in the late 1970s, a few years after the owner died.
For decades, the neighborhood struggled to maintain a grocery store — leading to its label by some as a “food desert,” for lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mayor Noam Bramson recalled the neighborhood’s late council member James Stowe, who died in 2010, yearned for a grocery store in his district. The nearest was across the freeway, difficult to traverse without a car. The city provides free shuttle circuit rides to residents, to help connect them to other parts of New Rochelle.
“Ideally, every neighborhood should benefit from convenient access to essential goods and services,” Bramson, who is set to step down as mayor after 17 years, said in a phone interview. “And nothing is more essential than food.”
Stowe wouldn’t live to see a grocery store arrive a decade later.
New Rochelle Farms ‘a part of me,’ owner says
In 2020, Filipe, a Mount Vernon resident, opened New Rochelle Farms just before pandemic lockdowns made the suburb one of the first U.S. epicenters for COVID-19.
It was Filipe’s first grocery store after a career in the industry that began with watching his dad’s business as a produce importer in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Filipe grew up. His father made treks to the Bronx Terminal Market, like Tarrant-Reid’s father.
With New Rochelle Farms, located in a building that once housed an auto body shop and a taxi stand, Filipe hoped to give residents a needed grocery store before the Stop & Shop across the Metro-North tracks and I-95 closed.
Just weeks after opening, pandemic shutdowns crippled grocery options. Filipe had experience in wholesale and retail vending. That allowed him to stock his shelves with tissues, canned goods and toilet papers that became scarce.
Filipe’s wife and children have helped run the store. This included food deliveries and taking calls to his cell phone from neighbors or their families to arrange for groceries. Today, he said he’s worked to help obtain goods for the diverse city, serving families from Barbados and Peru, among other places. In addressing need in the area, Filipe pointed to helping pay for families if they maxed out their benefit cards for the month.
“There isn’t any bigger human satisfaction than to feed someone that’s hungry — give somebody something to eat — when they say that they don’t have enough on their card, they don’t have enough for lunch,” he said. “I don’t know anyone that would deny anybody like that at all.”
The store, staffed with about 20 employees, continued on until the aftermath of Garris’ killing on July 3. In bodycam footage released by New Rochelle police, responding officers said the owner, Filipe, intended to press charges against Garris, whose family has said he had a history of mental health issues known to police. As Det. Steven Conn attempted to arrest Garris, police said he reached for an officer’s holstered gun, though the video is unclear. Conn shot Garris, who died a week later.
Filipe declined to answer questions about the shooting, citing the New York Attorney General’s ongoing investigation.
On July 7, Garris’ family held a press conference in front of St. Catherine A.M.E. Zion Church, where Tarrant-Reid’s family has attended services since she was a child. The crowd stood just feet from where police shot Garris, in the middle of Lincoln Avenue.
Afterward, some people marched to the intersection of Lincoln and North avenues in front of New Rochelle Farms. A few people entered and toppled over produce stands. Police made no arrests.
The store closed for more than a week. This allowed space to grieve, Filipe said, and to ease tension as the store readied to ultimately reopen, on July 17.
A few residents held daily sit-ins in front of the store’s shuttered front door. Some called for a change of ownership, others for hiring from the neighborhood. Filipe is of Dominican and Portuguese heritage.
“Calling police on a Black man in America, that’s a death sentence,” said Tarrant-Reid, who shopped at New Rochelle Farms. She added, “That kind of sensitivity needs to be brought forward to any merchant working in this neighborhood.”
After shooting, farm stand continues
In the meantime, Tarrant-Reid maintained Lincoln Park’s organic garden, spanning 10,000 square feet, with more than 60 raised beds. Families with roots in Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America have fruits and vegetables growing in the space. In one of the beds, scotch bonnets, a pepper used among Jamaican families, grows next to serrano chiles, common in Mexican households.
On July 14, Tarrant-Reid’s free food distribution at Lincoln Towers was its sixth of 15 total sites throughout the city over the summer for low-income and senior residents. In 2023, her nonprofit expanded its food distribution program with a food truck, from Port Chester’s Meals on Main Street, and around 300 pounds of food weekly, supplemented with more produce from Our New Way Garden, a farm in Purchase.
The food truck parked outside of Lincoln Towers’s front doors.
From the truck’s shelves, Rita Echevarria, 72, placed mixed salad and cookies, a treat for her 13-year-old granddaughter, in her bag. Echevarria clutched pinkish roses, but she couldn’t place their exact color.
“Whatever they are, I’m grateful,” she said.
Residents continued to trickle in for the truck to select produce they wanted as the morning warmed.
Down Lincoln Avenue — past the lanes of highway, beyond St. Catherine church — New Rochelle Farms’ signage advertised hot food, farm produce and fresh meat. Its doors remained closed over the weekend.