Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Faced with Supermarket Shortages, City and Community Groups Fight Back

As food prices continue to rise, the steady loss of city supermarkets seems to add insult to injury for both consumers and supermarket employees. According to a study published by the New York City Department of City Planning on April 21, 3 million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods that require more accessible supermarkets, while many more could benefit from competing supermarkets where they live. Currently there are only 550 supermarkets over 10,000 square feet serving city residents, with fewer supermarkets per capita in low-income neighborhoods like Harlem, East New York and Jamaica. By implementing initiatives that have proven effective in Pennsylvania, the city plans to recoup the nearly $1 billion dollars in supermarket revenue that have been lost to the suburbs: a profit that the DOCP says will support 100 new city supermarkets. The study also noted the tendency of new supermarkets to attract complimentary businesses and to increase local property values, while improving the health of nearby residents. It’s a battle that Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union is fighting on another front, by working with community boards to ensure that commercial space is reserved for neighborhood supermarkets, even as many owners are forced to fold from rising rent costs. The UFCW and Bronx Community Board 9 are currently struggling to preserve a Key Foods on Bruckner Avenue and, with it, the jobs of 100 Key Foods employees. By applying combined local force on building owners Vornado Realty Trust, Enrique Vega, Chairman of Bronx Community Board 9, hopes to secure the supermarket’s centrality in his community, while combating exorbitant rent increases. Said Vega, “[Vornado] are in deep trouble if they think they are going to put another type of store there. They’ll need a variance or an agreement with the community board, and they are not going to get it. We want a supermarket.”

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