Stressed-Out in Aisle 3; Fairway Shoppers React to Reports of the Store’s Possible Demise

By Michael McDowell

Upper West siders have been spoiled rotten to have a bountiful grocery store like Fairway in the heart of the neighborhood for nearly 90 years. But on Wednesday, shoppers were just feeling rotten after the New York Post reported that the neighborhood fixture at Broadway and 74th Street—along with 13 other stores—would shut its doors for good.

“I love the place, and I’m going to miss it,” said Barbara, an elegant woman in spectacles and a fur hat who has lived in the area since 1968, as she surveyed fruit situated in curbside bins braving Broadway elements.

“It’s a West Side hangabout, and a very good store. I love the quality of their produce, I love their coffee. They have a huge selection of olive oil, a huge selection of cheeses—not as good as Zabar’s, but up there—they have lovely fresh bread, and they have mini bagels, which I love,” she continued. “I introduced my brother to mini bagels, and now he can’t live without them, although I’m afraid he may have to.”

Are the rumors true?

“Oh Jesus,” an employee responded. “There will be another news report, either tonight or tomorrow. We were told [that] business is normal. We’re still hiring people, we’re still putting up new signage…as far as we know, it’s business as usual.”

In a statement in response to the report in the Post, Fairway said it “has no intention to file for chapter 7 or liquidate all of its stores.” On Thursday morning, the company said it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a process that lets the stores stay open as the company decides what comes next. It could lead to the store remaining a supermarket, though perhaps under new ownership. One report said that “Fairway Market has reached a stalking horse asset purchase agreement with Village Super Market Inc. (VLGEA) to sell up to 5 New York City Fairway stores and its Distribution Center for approximately $70 million.” VLGEA owns and operates 30 ShopRite stores in New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

The confusion didn’t slow the evening rush at Fairway on Wednesday, though. Inside, shoppers ogled okra, found consolation in chocolate, and collected crackers, olives, onions, and apricots. The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da filled the air; frenzied office workers speedily ticked items off of mental lists as they raced up and down aisles, and a few regulars gossiped with neighbors and friends.

“It’s an institution. I’ve been shopping here for 15 years,” said Ellen, a matter-of-fact West Sider with curly black hair.

“I’ve been shopping here since before you were born,” Susie chuckled, as she nibbled on a cookie.

“It’ll probably end up being something that we don’t need. Have you tried their coffee?”

“I’m usually here late at night, for bananas and chocolate milk,” a reporter confessed.

Customers aside, the store at 74th is full of employees: cashiers, stockers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, vitamin experts, florists, and upstairs at the cafe, servers and baristas. About 2,300 Fairway workers in the New York area are represented by UFCW Local 1500.

Who to believe?

Fairway was a family-owned business until 2007, when a private equity firm, Sterling Investment Partners, acquired a roughly 80 percent stake in the company—and saddled it with debt. Other owners since that transaction have included Brigade Capital Management, Goldman Sachs, and GSO Capital Partners.

“Do you think that they’re really going to close?” asked Elizabeth, as she chatted with a friend, Susan, after a dance class at Steps on Broadway, which has studio space above the supermarket.

“I don’t want to jinx it, I want them to stay open,” Susan said.

“It’s a huge space. If it closes, what’s it going to be? God forbid they should develop this building, knock the whole thing down—what happens to our ballet studio?” Elizabeth wondered. “And then the city’s not going to be worth living in,” she laughed. “What the heck!”

“Our broccoli and our ballet studio,” Susan affirmed.

Elizabeth followed the traffic of shoppers in and out of the store, and the rhythm of automatic doors and checkout counter beeps.

“It would be sad if it closes—I’d feel a loss of New York as we know it.”

FOOD, NEWS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Michael says:

      A tweet yesterday said it best:

      “In quiet awe of the private equity guys who managed to turn a handful of beloved and heavily trafficked supermarkets in the richest parts of the richest city on earth and somehow make them bankrupt and 175 million dollars in debt”

    2. Sherman says:

      I guess this means that not everything the NY Post reports is 100% reliable.

    3. Billy Amato says:

      Well maybe Village Supermarkets will clean up Fairways mess in more ways than one.

    4. UWS Wes says:

      If the reports are true and Village Supermarkets Inc acquires the Manhattan stores it’s safe to assume the Fairway brand lives on.

    5. MAD says:

      OK, here’s the story: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs Good news for UWS Fairway. Who remembers this jingle: “Hey ma, what’s for dinner/Hey ma, whatcha got?/She loves her family/She [forgot the words here]/She does everything she can/She lets Shoprite do the rest!” Dating myself, n’est-ce pas? Glad we will still have Fairway.

    6. Scott says:

      “Spoiled rotten” I don’t think so. Fairway’s perfectly good but compared to some of the best grocery chains around the country like H-E-B, Publix and Wegman’s it’s sub-standard in many ways. And they punish Manhattan customers with higher prices versus what they charge in NJ and Westchester. Whole Foods doesn’t. And you wonder why Fairway’s circling the drain?

      • RF says:

        I also found the “spoiled rotten” phrasing quite odd. Is this piece supposed to be news or opinion? It should be made clear that it’s the latter, because Fairway is indeed sub-standard in so many ways…crowded, dirty, dimly lit and poorly laid out. Produce and seafood selections which are wildly inconsistent. Too many expired products on the shelves, not enough proper checkout lanes, and lots of staff who don’t seem to know the store or the products. Wegmans might be wishful thinking, but I can’t be the only one who’d welcome a modern, full-size grocery store like Publix, Wegmans, Giant, or Hannaford.

      • Alfonse says:

        OMG Scott, fa realz?!? NYC costs more than other places??? No way!

    7. Quill says:

      It looks like they filed under Chapter 11 (reorganization), instead of Chapter 7 (liquidation)

    8. Steen says:

      Fairway, Dean & Deluca, Barney’s, Puerto Rico, parts of LA’s water system–all taken over by private equity and then subsequently destroyed. Yet these are the geniuses?

      • Isabelle says:

        Well Steen. In a sense they are geniuses when your only goal is accruing mountains of money. They buy the business. Over burden it with debt while putting the assets in their pockets. And then bankruptcy comes calling eventually. But so what.! The private equity firms got their payday. They walk away rich guys. And that’s what they consider success. Who cares about the business or how much it is loved and depended upon by its customers and community.

        • Marc says:

          If you really think that a private equity investor ends up happy when the business they acquired ends up in bankruptcy, you’re seriously misguided. This is not a sustainable business model for them – in terms of reputation, ability to raise funds, ability to finance through debt, or their own paychecks. In your own words, “the assets are their pockets” – and when bankruptcy eventually arrives, these assets could end up being worthless.

      • Evan Bando says:

        If earning an upfront payday in the millions while over-burdening a business in the transaction with eventually unserviceable debt that leads to bankruptcy, and you and your money is completely detached from that bankruptcy, then, in keeping with the grand American tradition of justifying anything and everything as long as you can laugh all the way to the bank, then, yes, I suppose, these are the geniuses you speak of.

    9. Ground Control says:

      “Fairway was a family-owned business until 2007, when a private equity firm, Sterling Investment Partners, acquired a roughly 80 percent stake in the company—and saddled it with debt.”
      Nothing more is necessary to say.

      • jezbel says:

        According to an article on google.news.com by The New York Times they say “Early Thursday (today) [Fairway] filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection” and that it had accepted an initial bid from Village Super Market to buy as many as 5 Fairway stores in NY & its distribution center “for about $70 million”.
        So I guess that’s the answer to all the questions. We just don’t know which 5 store will be saved.

    10. Mark Moore says:

      They have a bidder for five of the stores but the others are still in the wind.

    11. Jennifer carlebach says:

      Rabbi M made Fairway the best kosher place in town ever, as long as he is there there will be blessings
      His passover coffee is second to none as well all his work and love he put into it all these years
      Fairway will succeed no doubt about that

    12. John says:

      I would guess the Trader Joes 3 blocks away from the UWS store would have some impact.

    13. MH says:

      Has anyone noticed (if they care, which I do) that some items at Fairway have recently been completely out of stock on certain items? I am thinking in particular of Coke and Diet Coke, which can’t be purchased at Trader Joe’s, and am wondering if it is a result of their not paying bills. I’ve resorted to CVS for some grocery items I always used to buy at Fairway.

    14. Not Bloomberg says:

      Many disasters are due to more than one mistake. The objectives of a PE firm are certainly one to me. But another just as certain to me is the tax free ride portable warehouses like Fresh Direct get, which is under the purview of our representative democracy.

      As for the first run one,
      https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-01-23/fairway-was-mismanaged-and-looted-by-private-equity

      • Meh says:

        “Spoiled rotten”? Maybe you’re talking about the spoiled, melted and refrozen ice cream they insist on selling? Especially those popsicles and mochi that sit in those old fridges toward the back of the store. Man I got tired of wasting money to only find out at home that the ice cream I bought was in awful condition – to the point that I started opening the packages at the register before paying. Whoever buys this place has a great chance to run the store as it should, and maybe customers will reward them with more business

    15. Daniel A says:

      Quirky. Beloved by the community. Commitment to diversity in products and staff. Large organic section. Health and beauty. Perfect recipe for a CO-OP. Why don’t the employees buy the store and invite the customers as co-owners? Maine has several successful CO-OP groceries: Belfast CO-OP and Blue Hill CO-OP are two examples. Check them out on your next vacation.

    16. Kim says:

      One of the VERY BEST butchers RALPH at 74th St./Bway location would be terribly missed and I’m a vegetarian!!
      I’ve been buying meat for my sweet little lahsa for 9 years from Ralph .. to me he’s like the unofficial mayor of Fairway. Always a genuine, infectious smile and laughter than can uplift any grumpy newyork shopper. He makes a chore something to look forward too.
      Whatever becomes of the name on the sign .. keep our Fairway friends & community ~ doing what do best!

    17. Paul says:

      Village Supermarkets is not the parent company of ShopRite. They’re one of the largest ShopRite members. Fairway will do well under them.

    18. Leslie says:

      Why do the BC believe they are merchants. They are not!!! They destroyed Gracious Home, now Fairway.
      They don’t care that they are. Killing places that are an intimate part of the neighborhood.
      It’s sooooo distressing.

    19. Pam says:

      I guess New Yorkers will get their Chocolate Milk and Bananas by Amazon Drones ☹️ What is the world coming to?

    20. Marcia Kaye Mirage@gmail.com says:

      Lately it’s become more noticeable that Fairway is looking for new products to provide its customers Almost one-stop shopping, and new item at the deli or on the shelves all the time. That sounds like positive energy? And don’t forget Fairway was memorialized in the Tom Hanks movie, when they still weren’t taking credit cards. An institution, holding its own. Let Shopright go into the Loewe’s space, which unsuccessfully replaced an overprices supermarket.