D&L Groceries is well-stocked with resilience

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Caribbean staple D&L Groceries has suffered embezzlement, theft and personal loss over the last few years, but there are no plans to close its doors. Instead, D&L’s owner hopes to bring new life to the old store, and entertains the possibility of a second location. 

D&L (Deloris and Linford) Groceries, at 1005 Genesee St., was founded in 1986 by Linford Hamilton so that his wife, Deloris, could work when her career as a nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital ended. A familiar face to patrons, Deloris Hamilton has several nicknames among regulars—Auntie, Granny and Mrs. D. 

Located in the 19th Ward, D&L Groceries sells Caribbean food and condiments.
(Photo: D&L Groceries)

A mom and pop shop, D&L has been a family business for its entire existence, employing young members of the Hamiltons’ extended family over many summers, giving them a chance to learn skills and make a little money of their own. The store provides the community with access to familiar foods.

Sharon Sue-Wah-Sing, the Hamiltons’ daughter, notes that while a lot of the store’s merchandise can be found at big grocery stores, items like Jamaican cheese, jerk spice, patties, and other Caribbean essentials can only be found at D&L. Sue-Wah-Sing is D&L’s current owner.

As with many other small businesses, trouble began at the beginning of the pandemic. Seemingly a boon, a new manager brought fresh ideas. D&L was added to Uber Eats and GrubHub. The mechanical register was replaced with a new point-of-sale system, and MacBooks were bought to help operate the store. 

Sharon Sue-Wah-Sing, right, with her mother Deloris Hamilton (Family photos provided by Sharon Sue-Wah-Sing)

From Sue-Wah-Sing’s perspective from across the border—living in Toronto with her daughters, working as a nurse—things were going well. The manager applied for COVID-relief grants available for small businesses to help keep D&L afloat. 

Aside from technology, however, improvements weren’t being made to the physical store. The paint was still peeling. The shelves were going understocked. 

Despite this, Sue-Wah-Sing says her parents were still putting their heart and soul into the business. They felt a responsibility to the community. 

“They were paying bills out of pocket,” Sue-Wah-Sing says. 

Linford Hamilton

As the store continued to struggle, Sue-Wah-Sing began to get suspicious about the new manager. In November 2021, she took a close look at the store’s books and fired the manager. The employee, however, allegedly took some of the purchases made in D&L’s name.

Soon another tragedy would strike. Linford Hamilton, affectionately known as Pops to his regulars, who had fallen ill in 2020, passed away two years later. Sue-Wah-Sing returned to Rochester to keep a closer eye on the store, and found another transgression. 

A different employee was making double purchases on the D&L dollar. According to Sue-Wah-Sing, he sold the extra supplies to the competition.

“My parents were too trusting, and also really needed assistance, so they just didn’t want to believe it,” Sue-Wah-Sing says.

So, she cleaned house a second time. With $50,000 in accumulated debt, a tough road lay ahead. 

Today, Sue-Wah-Sing is working hard to help the store emerge from its troubles. She is determined to make the family business succeed and is trying to focus on what her father would do. 

Sue-Wah-Sing recalls her father’s words when he learned of the thefts: “‘OK, that’s done, that’s in the past. How do we move forward?’”

“He wouldn’t think, ‘Let’s make them pay.’ He would say, ‘We still have life,’” Sue-Wah-Sing says, pausing to wipe her tears. “Sometimes I still can’t believe he’s not here. I still haven’t had time to grieve.”

The store has yet to operate at pre-pandemic levels. 

“We aren’t bankrupt, but cash is tight,” Sue-Wah-Sing says. 

She hired an accountant to keep everything above board and is applying for new grants and loans to keep going for the time being. Even if D&L can’t keep the shelves fully stocked, Sue-Wah-Sing says the store can keep selling hot food including chef Howard Mahabee’s city-famous soups. 

Staff is a tight-knit group of five. A former employee, Hubert Patterson, came out of retirement to help around the shop, and Sue-Wah-Sing’s daughters help their mother design Instagram posts for the store from Toronto. Sue-Wah-Sing says the staff operates more like a team now. They make decisions as a group, and pay is higher.

“If your employees are happy, they’re not as likely to steal and they put more work in,” Sue-Wah-Sing says.

She splits her time between Toronto and Rochester and plans to do so until her younger daughter graduates from high school. 

Sue-Wah-Sing hopes to keep revitalizing D&L. The store has renewed its liquor license and plans to obtain an import-export license. Plans also are under way to patent Mrs. D’s homemade juices and sell them in restaurants around the city. And in memory of her father’s steadfast goal of providing healthy food, Sue-Wah-Sing wants to get a vegan item on the menu. While a second location is possible, she would like to fix up the flagship store.

“With what we’ve been through, the fact we’re still here is amazing,” Sue-Wah-Sing says. “My dad was a fighter, definitely. I guess I got that from him.”

Alex Prideaux is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a recent University of Rochester graduate. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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