The beloved grocery store on Columbus Avenue will soon be closing its doors without the offer of a longterm lease
Last Sunday, hundreds of residents gathered outside of Food City at 705 Columbus Avenue, joined by City Council Member Gale Brewer, members of Local 338 Retail Wholesale Department Store Union and United Food and Commercial Workers (RWDSU-UFCW), to show their support for the grocery store with over 40 years of doing business on the Upper West Side. Food City has not been given a lease by the owner of the building since 2004 and may be forced to close as a result.
Food City is a family owned business of three generations, founded in 1953 by Robert Katz and partners. The first Food City market opened on Broadway and branched out, at one point including fourteen stores located throughout the city. The Food City on 70 West 95 Street/705 Columbus Avenue opened in 1969 and has since been an important place for the Upper West Side community, offering quality products and reasonable prices to the local neighborhood. Food City has been a union shop since 1953, being part of Local 338 for groceries and Local 342 for meat products. It is currently home to about 45 union employees.
Food City has also been an active part of the community and annual supporter of Goddard Riverside Community Center’s softball league. In the 2012-2013 Age-Friendly Grocery Guide produced by Council Member Brewer’s office, Food City and its workers were featured as embodying the best practices of local businesses in addressing the needs of older adults, providing the option to shop by phone and a delivery service. Their produce, meat, fish and prepared goods are available in single portions. Their aisles are accessible, as are their publicly available restrooms. Especially for the seniors in the area, Food City represents a store that cannot be matched by any other market in the vicinity when it comes to prices, range of products, and services provided.
For the past eight years, Food City has not been offered a long term lease from the building owner, the LeFrak Organization. Without a guarantee of a long term lease, Food City cannot invest in the renovations necessary to continue to stay open and competitive. The site where Food City is located, 705 Columbus Avenue, is part of the now expired 1962 West Side Urban Renewal Area (WSURA) and falls under the jurisdiction of a 2008 City Planning text amendment. This zoning allows individual property owners within the WSURA to make an application to modify the ground floor and second level of the building for commercial and community facility space. In 2012, Community Board 7 was notified that the LeFrak Organization was exploring the possibility of redeveloping the space at 705 Columbus for additional commercial retail space. To date, no plans have been officially submitted to the City Planning Commission.
“The Lefrak organization should be proud to have a store such as Food City on their property,” said Brewer. “Food City is the principal food supplier to the residents of Lefrak’s adjacent apartment house, and to thousands of other local residents like me. It is not just another disposable commodity, but a safe, trusted neighbor where customers are treated like family.”
“This situation, of a large landlord with no community ties buying a property and then driving out a decades-old neighborhood institution, is not the right way to do business or make friends on the Upper West Side,” Brewer continued. “An enlightened landlord like Lefrak should be committed to keeping this key resource open, and to preserving the values of the community where it wants to put down roots.”
New York State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell stated “Food City is an important neighborhood institution that provides essential services to our neighborhood, especially to the many seniors who live nearby. We need more upstanding companies like Food City in our area, and for it to be forced to leave is a travesty.”
“I am at a loss for words” said Barbara Berger, the owner of the Food City location. “Food City is more then just a business, it is a three generation family business, and we have always worked as a family that includes our employees and customers. This place lasted for three generations and has always been a part of my life. It is truly an end of an era.”
“It’s hard to believe that in this community which is still largely home to working families and retired elderly, we are threatened with the loss of yet another accessible source of affordable food and fresh produce,” said Nick Prigo, local Democratic District Leader from Community Free Democrats.
Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller said, “Eating healthily should be available to all, and the loss of a traditional and beloved supermarket such as Food City is a serious concern. Community Board 7’s Core Principles recognize the vital role of supporting and celebrating all forms of diversity, including economic and social diversity, as part of building a sustainable future for everyone, and losing Food City is a major step backward from that goal.”
“Food City is the only existing supermarket with a five to seven block area,” said Hannah S. Hess, the Vice President of the Stryckers Bay Apartments Board of Directors. “The other supermarkets are upscale, catering to the new, upper-income residents in the area. For the lower income residents of the area, neither D’Agostino’s nor Whole Foods have the kinds of prices that allow them to maintain a reasonable budget.”
“Food City’s closing after 44 years will be a very sad day for our neighborhood,” said Jim Victorine, a resident of West 95th Street. “For many years they were the only market serving our immediate area. This is another unfortunate example of how money in New York City is taking precedence over community.”
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