728X90_west63rd

FOOD CITY DRAMA CONTINUES: CAN A PRIVATE PROPERTY BE ‘SAVED’?


Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman Gale Brewer speak at Sunday’s rally.

Food City, the market on the corner of 94th street and Columbus Avenue that has been around for 44 years, is expected to close by the end of the month. But there’s been a flurry of activity in recent days, with politicians staging a rally on Sunday and writing letters to try to keep it open. The owner of the building, LeFrak Organization, hasn’t responded to our inquiries, and we hear that the shelves in the market continue to empty. There’s little indication that the market’s closure has been stalled. One of our tipsters writes: “I was at Food City a few minutes ago, and a long-time employee said firmly that they are closing at the end of the month. The shelves are indeed emptying fast.”

According to Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the property sits in a former urban renewal district and it can only be modified with approval from the city planning department. It doesn’t sound like a massive tower can be built there, at least not easily. “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.”

How much can politicians do to “save” a market when it sits on privately owned land? Brewer says “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.” Oh, if only all the landlords on the Upper West Side would think more about making friends than making money! Then my rent would be $800.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. And read a release from the rally below:

Today, Council Member Gale A. Brewer joined members of Local 338 Retail Wholesale Department Store Union and United Food and Commercial Workers (RWDSU-UFCW) along with hundreds of neighbors to support Food City, 705 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan, a 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, New York, NY 10025 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 loyal union employees, and an integral part of this neighborhood.

Aside from being a trusted place for people to do their daily shopping, Food City has also been an active part of this community and annual supporter of Goddard Riverside Community Center’s softball league. In the 2012-2013 Age-Friendly Grocery Guide produced by Council Member Gale 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. That is why, especially for the seniors in this 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.

Unfortunately, for 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 Council Member Gale A. 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.” Brewer added, “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. 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. I am proud to stand with many members of our community in calling for the landlord to allow the store to remain open. 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 “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.”

“For over four decades, Local 338 has represented the workers of Food City – Columbus Ave. It’s a tragedy that the Landlord for the property has refused to give this community grocery store a lease that would allow them to continue to serve the residents of the Upper West Side,” said John R. Durso, President, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW. “Our members are more than just workers in a store, they are part of this community.  They are your neighbors, your friends and although you may not realize it, they are part of your daily lives.  Some of our members in this store have worked here for than 30 years and, at the end of this month, they and their families will face an uncertain future. Both the residents of the Upper West Side and the men and women who work here each day to serve the community deserve better!   They deserve to keep a great community grocery store like Food City.  I join Council member Brewer and the other elected officials gathered here today in calling upon the landlord to work with Food City to reach an agreement for a new long term lease that will secure their ability to continue serving this great community.”

“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. “We ask the LeFrak Organization to be the best of good neighbors by offering a reasonable, long-term lease to Food City so that it can update its equipment and services to our community.”

Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller noted that “Sustainable communities must provide options close to home to purchase healthy food at a variety of price points.  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.”

Stephan Russo, the Executive Director of the Goddard Riverside Community Center also expressed his regret upon hearing about the closing of Food City. “Food City has been a terrific community partner; they sponsored a softball team for children in the neighborhood. We purchased the food from them on many occasions and it will be a shame to lose such a valuable resource.”

Hannah S. Hess, the Vice President of the Stryckers Bay Apartments Board of Directors, also expressed her disappointment about the situation. “Food City is the only existing supermarket with a five to seven block area. The other supermarkets are upscale, catering to the new, upper-income residents in the area.  For the elderly and physically challenged, the loss of Food City would be a real problem.  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. I am distressed that the Lefrak Organization is not renewing the lease of Food City.”

“Food City’s closing after 44 years will be a very sad day for our neighborhood. For many years they were the only market serving our immediate area. Food City has especially been a blessing for the elderly and infirm, providing patient and friendly service from their long-term devoted employees. This is another unfortunate example of how money in New York City is taking precedence over community,” said Jim Victorine, resident of the 95 West 95 Street.

Photo via Nick Prigo.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 11 comments | permalink
    1. Dante says:

      I’ve lived in this area for over 40 yrs.I can count on one hand with some fingers left over how many times I went in this store.I never realized that it was this important to comm. Hope the store wins,but with the greedy society we live in I tend to doubt it.

    2. For the past ten years, it has been known that there is a supermarket shortage on the Upper West Side. Except for Columbus Square, there hasn’t been any substantial investment to increase the inventory of retail space needed to serve the large population of the West Side. What we are seeing is a community in collapse due to years of neglect, poor planning and management policies by city planning, local politicians and the community board. Economic conditions and a community apathy further add to the problems.

      On the other hand, Food City is not as innocent as they make themslves seem. They have had many years to plan for this eventuality and have not made any contigency plans to move.

    3. Ken says:

      NYC Issues – You wrote, in part:

      “…What we are seeing is a community in collapse due to years of neglect, poor planning and management policies by city planning, local politicians and the community board…”

      The UWS is hardly “a community in collapse”. You need to defend that statement with some specifics. A supermarket closing in a pigeon-dung encrusted plaza – while regrettable for those who rely on it – is hardly the decline and fall of the empire – or the prelude to it.

      • Drew says:

        Community in collapse???

        In any case I get that politicians get involved bc they love the photo opportunity and love to show they care about elderly voters.

        Bottom line is there are MANY MANY alternatives in the neighborhood as well as Fresh Direct to serve people of limited means and mobility.

        BOTTOM LINE IS IT IS THE PROPERTIES OWNERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO WHATEVER THEY WANT WITHIN THEY WANT IN THE SPACE SO LONG AS THEY FOLLOW THE ZONING. If you don’t like it, offer to buy the lot from LeFrak and keep the store.

        LeFrak is a business, not a non-for profit charity. Vote with your pocket book. This is a Democratic capitalist country.

        Look at the flip-side of the argument. LeFrak let the space stay underdeveloped and under market rent for years and years. They are now trying to capitalize on what is their right.

        Either way it is an eye-sore and makes an already eye-sore of a stretch of Columbus look worse. Looking forward to anything else at all coming to the space.

      • Increased property values and high income residents are definitely a sign of success for the community surrounding Food City. For those who are not in the upper income categories there has been a lose of local businesses offering moderately priced goods and services. The section of Columbus Avenue is already sparsely populated by businesses. Less choices and increased walking distances for those residents not driving. The more expensive food stores will have even longer lines. This is a real decline in quality of life for many residents of the community.

    4. Chris says:

      It strikes me the landlord can do whatever they want.

      The stretch of Amsterdam and Columbus north of 86th certainly doesn’t lack for available commercial space, so perhaps the grocery store should explore elsewhere. Maybe Gale Brewer should actually focus on things that matter for the bigger neighborhood, like the fact that the west 90s is basically one big homeless shelter on broadway, and the fact that so few commercial businesses will invest in upper Amsterdam or Columbus.

      • Stavo says:

        I’m with Chris. Enough with affordable this and affordable that for the 90s. We are a ugly as he’ll neighborhood packed with homeless shelters.

        If developer wants to upgrade a space with a nice new building and retail then we should be WELCOMING it on this stretch. It’s not exactly 84th or 74th and Columbus.

        In welcome it with open arms.

    5. Beth says:

      I’ve lived on the UWS for 25 years now. Over that time I’ve seen it become more gentrified, more like the UES. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Housing projects and the like will become isolated pockets of poverty surrounded by great wealth.

    6. El Bo says:

      These politicians are the most remarkable hypocrites. They fight tooth-and-nail to keep WalMart out of the city (at the behest of their union masters of course) and then pretend to care about affordable markets when there is a photo-op involved.

    7. ELJ says:

      I went back and looked at the earlier articles about this. The only comment from anyone related to the store is in the first article where it states that someone talked to the store manager and that the closing had something to do with the lease. Have any of the people decrying the closure of this store wondered if maybe Food City doesn’t care if it closes or if this store is even profitable for them? Perhaps the owners have had something to say but it hasn’t been reported anywhere that I can see.

    8. C.J. says:

      WHERE WERE ALL THESE INTERESTED PARTIES IN THE LAST EIGHT YEARS.