After Holding Out for 58 Years, Pioneer Supermarket Decides to Open on Sundays

By Arianna Geneson

Some traditions are hard to break, even when the rest of the world seems to have moved on.

Pioneer Supermarket on Columbus between 73rd and 74th Streets has been closed on Sundays since the Eisenhower administration. That changed last Sunday.

Opened in 1959, Pioneer has always been a family-run store. Longtime owner Lenny Franzblau was a staple of the Upper West Side for decades — there are stories of him allowing people to pay with IOUs. Since Lenny’s death in 2014, Pioneer has stayed in the Franzblau family and is currently run and operated by his son and their many long-time employees.

One employee, Frank, has been working at Pioneer for 21 years. When asked why Pioneer made this big change, Frank noted that it is something customers have asked about for years. He also noted the many changes to the neighborhood and that the store has new competition: “Two years ago we didn’t. Now it’s vicious.”

Customers already seem happy with Pioneer’s new schedule. One customer, Rhadia, a five-year resident of the Upper West Side, commented on the convenience as well as the unique quality of shopping at a store like Pioneer. “There’s obviously something special about coming to a place that’s been in business as long as they have.” Working as a chef, Rhadia has to grocery shop every day and visits Pioneer once a week. She has close relationships with the store’s employees.  “It’s good when they know you because they’ll tell you what to get—what’s the freshest.”

Those relationships are what make Pioneer and other long-time shops in the neighborhood unique. Frank commented on the many regular customers he has seen and gotten to know over the years. “I’ve seen some girls who were eight years old—now they’re 40 years old.” Frank has made friends with many Pioneer regulars, receiving gifts of socks and even toys for his son in the past.

While Pioneer has experienced some big changes over the years, it seems it still embraces the neighborhood values of family and community.

Top photo by Brian. Second photo by Arianna Geneson.

FOOD, HISTORY, NEWS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. steve says:

      you have to be kidding. The cashiers in there are the nastiest in the entire neighborhood. Ridiculously rude. Most of the people on my block don’t shop there for this very reason. Go take a peek at the yelp reviews if you need further proof

      • Sean says:

        I have noticed this myself.

      • danny says:

        They remind me of cashiers in Russia. I think these are primarily cultural differences – the way they speak to each other and mostly ignore the customer. They are all from Haiti, it seems?

      • Christian says:

        I find these clerks’ freedom far preferable to the enforced cheerfulness-by-policy at some other stores. And most that I’ve spoken with have been very sweet.

        • Howard Freeman says:

          I’ve got no problem with cheerfulness by policy. (Like Chick-fil-A. It’s called “customer first.”

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        Quit complaining!

      • Nancy says:

        It’s shocking when one of them looks up and says hello! I can’t believe this store has any fans- the worst !!!

      • Denaliboy says:

        I’ve shopped there on and off for the past decade, though my main shopping is at fairway, trader Joe, zabars and gristede. I did t know if was a family owned operation. Cashiers at Pioneer are worse than at the stores noted above. On a good day they are just disinterested. Generally rude.

    2. Mary Thornton says:

      Very interesting!

    3. Sean says:

      Absolutely horrible inside unless you want beer for an 80s throwback party. Since the family also owns the building and has settled all their tenant issues maybe the facade could now be restored to its’ former luster?

    4. geoff says:

      i like to kibbutz with the ‘girls’ on the cash registers. they sometimes seem cold, or aloof, but they’re not. i pointed out that every one of them was wearing, on that day, gold earrings. they usually are all wear earrings, but on that day all were gold.

      such hooting and hollering!

      pioneer—such a place! i’ve been a customer since 1978. i can’t see anything that has changed. maybe some of the specials, but even most of the ‘specials’ are ancient.

      • Ye Olde Englishe Teachere says:

        Re: “i like to kibbutz with the ‘girls’….”

        Hmmm…a kibbutz is an Israeli “collective community”

        To “kibbitz” is to offer advice, make comments, ‘shmooze’, et-cet-er-a, et-cet-er-a, et-cet-er-aaaa (to quote the late Yul Brynner).

    5. Finally great business news in the ‘hood!!! When we lived here in the early ’80’s Pioneer was a stalwart. Moved back last year and so glad they have endured.

      Still love this local market and welcome its opening on Sundays. A staple worth patronizing 7 days a week! Thank you.

    6. James Byrne says:

      My favorite local store. I love West Side Market as well, and I wonder if this had anything to do with the rumors of West Side Market’s possible closing.
      And as for West Side, the bakery Mille Feuille next door is having its facade rebuilt, and you now have to enter through the hotel lobby. But it’s still open.

    7. Travis Bickle says:

      Awesome store and neighborhood mainstay. Great selection of weekly specials that are cheaper than Fairway, otherwise some non-sale items very pricey. Best selection of beer in Manhattan. Many older neighborhood residents rely on this store for their sustenance. Glad for their Sunday hours.

    8. Will says:

      You can tell the difference between the newcomers to the area and the old timers in the comments here.

    9. David says:

      I have lived in this neighborhood since the mid 1980s, a time when there were many supermarkets on the UWS (anyone remember Daitch-Shopwell?). But I never realized until this past year that Pioneer does not have a deli counter…

      • RK says:

        Daitch-Shopwell (Shopwell) created The Food Emporium brand as an upscale marketing effort. The store changed names but that’s it IIRC – I was a teenager). Of course, once A&P purchased Shopwell, things changed. Wikipedia has the whole story, including the origin of the Daitch name, if you’re interested.

    10. Richard Kaufman says:

      My favorite supermarket in the ‘hood! Oh wait… the only supermarket in the ‘hood.

    11. JR says:

      Agree that the cashiers are rude. I wont shop there.

    12. Thom says:

      I go to Pioneer every week and NEVER had a negative reaction from any cashier. Perhaps if some people would at least say ‘hello’ first they would receive a better response!

      • Nancy says:

        If they weren’t so involved in conversations with their fellow cashiers or on their phones, it would be easier to engage them in conversation. I always smile and say hello first . How about a simple “thank you” at the end of the transaction??? I prefer to shop at the Bodega or Korean market on the corner. Also a family business with appreciative people behind the counter.

    13. Ruby in Gotham says:

      The take-away is that a long-time neighborhood store remains, unlike countless others we miss every day. And loyal employees keep their jobs. And loyal customers can continue to shop. Sounds like a win for everyone, actually.

    14. Native NYer says:

      The cashier women are from Senegal. They’re very sweet — all that’s required is being friendly toward them and you’ll see. Please, no bashing comments now…let’s be kind to one another.

    15. Carol F says:

      I have been going there for 21 years and am thrilled they have decided to be open on Sundays! Thank you!

    16. Paris Wyome says:

      I don’t understand the harsh complaints–maybe they are serial complainer types. I have been going to this store since the 70s. Fantastic beer selection. Many improvements, including upscaling merchandise, to reflect the changing west Side scene. But Pioneer needs a high-tech checkout scanning system. Nice checkout persons. Good sales. Hardly any lines. Mostly branded merchandise. I shop here more, decreased shopping at Trader Joe’s due to almost always long lines there as well as often bad private label stuff and robot like checkout persons. I like dealing with Pioneer’s managers much better than Trader J. managers. This is being written by an UWS reporter who has often written about the U.S. supermarket industry.

    17. Alex says:

      The cashiers there are only rude if you walk around with the expectation that you’re entitled to having everyone fawn over your every transaction. I’ve been going to Pioneer for ten years and everyone there has always been incredibly nice and helpful, if a bit direct.

    18. B Flat says:

      It’ll be more convenient for shoppers, but I wonder how long it will last. I’m old enough to remember most businesses being closed on Sundays and some department stores closing for summer – before central air. Global warming might necessitate a return to that pattern

    19. Tomtom says:

      Beer prices at pioneer have gone up so much that I find myself buying from Duane Reade more often than not.

      I’ve never noticed the cashiers being rude.

      The prepackaged meat and seafood section could use a quality upgrade

    20. Mark Moore says:

      What vicious new competition has moved in over the last two years?

    21. Elisabeth Anderson says:

      Loved Pioneer. Sorry l am out-of-state. Frank was my wonderful delivery man. Lenny always kind to me, along with Wally. Miss all.

    22. LJ says:

      I appreciate being able to get basics here that the more luxury oriented stores don’t carry. I have found the cashiers either helpful and pleasant, or sometimes just quiet, but never rude. I hope this place stays here forever.

    23. ws says:

      Wow. That’s crazy. Next they’ll mop the floor!

    24. 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

      I am glad that Pioneer will be open on Sundays. It is a great place to get basic items while avoiding the crowds at Fairway. I think the cashiers do a good job.