By Kelsey Sirois
Racialized spaces are all over Beloit. Two that are interesting to compare and contrast are Bushel & Peck’s and La Mexicana. The reason these two are interesting alongside one another is because they are both specialty grocery stores, and of course most specialty grocery stores will have different customer bases, but they don’t always so obviously split in half the way La Mexicana and Bushel & Peck’s do.
The set-up of Bushel & Peck’s and La Mexicana are extremely similar: both sell unique items; both have meat counters, fresh fruits and vegetables; and both are involved in food preparation. What I found to be most interesting about these stores was how physical space is represented. When walking into Bushel & Peck’s everything is in eyesight — it is one large room with an extremely high ceiling. The space is big enough to have events such as open mic nights and the farm-to-table dinners that are held where they will host a dinner with up to 30 people usually attending. It is unlikely that a customer will feel cramped in Bushel & Peck’s, with plenty of space between tables as well as shopping aisles. There is also a wide hallway housing artwork on its walls and leading to the back exit. This hallway is similar in size to the shopping area in La Mexicana.
The eating area in La Mexicana, though a separate room from the shopping area, is much smaller, with tables closer together and with much less seating. This physical space came across as racialized in the way that it is indicative of living spaces in two very different cultures. Bushel & Peck’s is more representative of Victorian architectural space though not necessarily the style, but Bushel & Peck’s monopolizes much more space than needed for the number of customers there on any given day or for the amount of product they sell. This is similar to Victorian homes’ structure due to the amount of living space. Victorian homes often have many more rooms than people living in the homes, often with several living rooms that are pretentious enough to have their own individual names.
La Mexicana, spatially, is indicative of a home you would traditionally find in South America where a family will often all sleep in one room. It is not spacious and does not take up any more space than necessary. While I was at La Mexicana, people shopping were shimmying sideways through the aisles in order to get through, and people eating were pulling up spare chairs in order to all squeeze in at one table.
The vastly different physical spaces are symptomatic of the cultures represented, and the cultural divide does not end there. When surveying customers at both establishments it was made clear that the average customer at both stores had not been to the other. At Bushel & Peck’s, when asked: “Do you ever shop at other specialty stores? A co-op or a store like La Mexicana?” some customers said they shopped at co-ops but all customers surveyed said they had either never been to La Mexicana or never heard of La Mexicana. This was not surprising to me after going to La Mexicana, where I was the only white customer there. This reified my assumptions that La Mexicana was a Hispanic space and was reflective of all my previous experiences at Bushel & Peck’s, where 11 out of the 12 customers surveyed identified themselves as white or Caucasian. This divide was harder to survey at La Mexicana because of how persistent the customers there were in evading filling out surveys, which had three questions about shopping experiences at the store in question and other stores. The four people that did fill out the survey — out of about 20 asked — had not heard of or been to Bushel & Peck’s (all 4 identified as Hispanic.)