The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

Through classes, art teachers aim to grow art appreciation

Harper Foods owner watches community, students grow

Bryce Light
Owner of Harper Foods Alex Bharucha stands at the cashier, waiting for customers to complete their purchases. Mr. Bharucha enjoys his customer interactions with members of the Hyde Park community.

At the little market on East 57th Street between South Harper and South Blackstone Avenues, U-High students flow in and out after school. They fill their hands with the abundant food options, everything from varying flavors of candy to fresh produce. 

Alex Bharucha is there to see it all, all day, almost every day, from his spot behind the counter.

Mr. Bharucha is the owner of Harper Foods, the convenience store located at 1455 E. 57th St. He has seen, assisted and talked to hundreds of students from the Laboratory Schools and the university in his nearly five years of owning this store. 

He says he loves the location, specifically the community.

“They look out for each other, so I like that,” he said. “Even strangers on the street, if they see somebody they don’t know, they might just go for help. I like that about the Hyde Park community.”

The community loves him, too, with most people knowing him just by his first name: Alex. He knows their pets by name, asks how relatives are doing, gives life advice and always greets customers with a smile. 

Not only Lab students and neighborhood residents but students at nearby schools share connections with him. He says he’s seen many of the same students grow up in the last four years and has watched as certain snacks became their regular purchases. 

Senior Ana Grieve, one of those students, who has been purchasing snacks from Harper Foods for seven years, has noticed his presence in U-High students’ conversations.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve said that they’ve started stocking things just because they mentioned that they were looking for it, or they kept things in stock that other people really aren’t buying just because they know a certain person will always come in for that item,” she said.

While the community and atmosphere of the store are appealing to him, he admits a dislike for the number of hours he has to put in. He works with grocery suppliers that send sales reps to help restock the store. But, most of the time, he ends up having to work late restocking shelves or going out and purchasing items on his own time. 

The store — open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week — is almost always run by Mr. Bharucha. 

“It’s just a lot of hours. Consistently. If one restocking guy doesn’t show up, then you know, it’s just like, I have to do this after hours,” Mr. Bharucha said. “Sometimes until midnight.” 

When he was about 10, Mr. Bharucha and his family moved from India to the United States. They first lived in Atlanta then moved all over the country, to whatever business called. Working in his dad’s retail stores, Mr. Bharucha found a love for the business and the interactions between customers and the communities his family had operated in. Mr. Bharucha majored in business at the University of Tennessee, then he and his family moved to Chicago for business opportunities.

“I just kind of followed my dad’s footsteps. He had always been in the convenience store business, and I’ve been doing this since I was 14, helping in the store, helping right after school, whenever,” he said.

His parents, who also enjoy interacting with customers, occasionally drop in to help out.

While Mr. Bharucha enjoys his job and its emphasis on daily interaction, it has its downsides. Especially during the pandemic, the store was hit hard due to protests and robberies. 

Despite the presence of shoplifters or intoxicated people wandering in, the store is his only source of income. All he can do is accept the complications. Despite the negatives, he has hope for the future. 

“In the future, I want to open up a similar kind of store or maybe buy the one already in operation,” he said. “I’m looking to open up a couple more grocery stores in the coming years.”

For now, he enjoys his lifestyle and the window he is given to our growing generation from behind the convenience store counter. 

A customer walks in, his dog on a leash. Exchanging friendly hellos, Mr. Bharucha goes to ring up the dog food he’s holding. “How’s he been?” he says, motioning toward the dog. The man smiles, appreciating the recognition, and shares his dog’s veterinarian visits the past week. 

As the man leaves, Mr. Bharucha wishes them both well, then waves goodbye with a simple “See you next time!”

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About the Contributors
Skye Freeman, Audience Engagement Manager
Skye Freeman is a member of the Class of 2025 and is an audience engagement manager. She joined the journalism team during the 2022-23 school year when she was a sophomore. Her favorite piece she has written for the Midway is her story on the U-High drama teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Ambrosini: “Love that Lasts: U-High theater teachers married for over 50 years flawlessly execute show after show.” Outside of journalism, she enjoys playing Badminton and is vice president of the Students with Disabilities Association and of the Junior States of America club.
Bryce Light, Photographer
Bryce Light is a beginning photojournalist and a member of the Class of 2025. His favorite part of photojournalism is documenting school events. Outside of photojournalism, Bryce enjoys soccer, video games and taking his dogs on walks.

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