At Queens Grocery, Tikka Is In, Turkey Out

Shoppers skip Thanksgiving to buy groceries at Patel Brothers.

Article and photo by Kenzom Lama

It is noon Thanksgiving day at Patel Brothers, an Indian supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens, and it is bustling with shoppers, mostly immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Tibet.

“There were more people yesterday; most people like to do their grocery shopping the night before Thanksgiving,” said a stock clerk who gave his name only as Sharma, and who was busy refilling the refrigerator with frozen food. “Today after 4 or 5 p.m., there will be less people here because they will go to the mall for Black Friday shopping”

Venkatesh Sabhae, 40, doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving; he’s at Patel Brothers doing his weekly grocery shopping. Sabhae, who says he’s been shopping at Patel’s for a decade, says Black Friday is “not worth the hype”.

Tahmina Zaman, 30, also has been coming to Patel Brothers for about 10 years. She doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, but is planning to cook a special dinner, chicken kebab, for her family. Later, she plans to go to the Queens Center Mall and Best Buy for her Black Friday shopping. “I want to buy electronics and clothes,” said Zaman.

Laxmi Bhatta, 23, comes to Patel Brothers once a week to do her grocery shopping. She has nothing special planned for Thanksgiving. Bhatta wants to go home, cook a regular dinner and just rest well for the night. “I want to do Black Friday shopping, but I have work tomorrow,” said Bhatta.

Lhamo Tsering, 21, shops at Patel Brothers once in a while. She is here for her usual grocery shopping. Tsering plans to go to her cousin’s place for Thanksgiving dinner.

By 7 p.m. the crowd at Patel’s has thinned to about a dozen customers. Among the few shoppers left are Andrea Christie, 32 and her friend, Doug Bradley, 38. Christie has been shopping at Patel Brothers since 2012. “No Thanksgiving plan today. We took off this year. We used to do big dinner,” said Christie.

“The plan is to just relax,” added Bradley.

Bradley and Christie don’t think the lines are worth it for Black Friday shopping. “Maybe if I wanted a TV, but I have everything. I don’t need anything” said Christie.

Ankush Gowli, 25, is one of the cashiers at Patel Brothers. She spent the day bagging South Asian staples like mango chutney and ghee—a clarified butter used in South Asian cooking—for customers. “Two weeks ago for Diwali, we had special offers, and every customer got a box of Indian sweets; but there are no special offers for Thanksgiving today,” said Gowli, referring to Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn around Thanksgiving.