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Local Pols Are Trying To Save NYC’s Affordable Supermarkets

Gentrification and the arrival of gourmet groceries have put supermarkets out of business. Now neighborhoods are fighting back.

By Jeff Vasishta February 15, 2017

The “affordable” supermarket has been a staple of New York for years. The likes of Met Food, Associated Supermarket, and City Fresh may not have always had the best decor or the widest of food choices. But if it’s a 99c can of Goya beans or 2-gallon bottles for $3 of apple juice along with fresh produce you’re after, then they are the best place in town. Recent tax hikes, though, have seen them vacating our streets faster than politicians with unexplained deposits from Russian banks.

At a City Council meeting this week, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilman Corey Johnson said they plan to introduce a bill that would exempt “affordable” supermarkets from the city’s commercial rent tax.

The tax is currently imposed on the businesses between Murray Street and 96th Street in Manhattan that pay $250,000 or more in rent per year, Brewer said.

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“We’ve seen too many neighborhood supermarkets threatened with closure in the last few years, and we’ve been to too many rallies to try to keep them open,” Brewer said in a statement. The tax “puts an unfair, regressive burden on businesses in some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, where there is immense upward pressure on commercial storefront rents,” she added.

The bill would also require ta minimum of 500 square feet of the retail space be used specifically for selling fresh produce. Any grocery stores where pharmacy sales make up more than half of the store’s sales would be exempt.

Manhattan’s commercial rent tax zone included 132 supermarkets as of last summer—all of which could potentially qualify for the exemption if they meet the bill’s requirements, according to a survey conducted by Brewer’s office.

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As gentrification has done multiple sweeps of NYC, these supermarkets which often served the immigrant communities where they were located, have been increasingly replaced with the likes of Whole Foods and organic markets and gourmet grocers. With affordable housing scarce, the lack of affordable food choices has been especially painful to working class residents. The closings have been widespread. In Manhattan a City Fresh Supermarket in Harlem, a D’Agostino in Murray Hill, a Met Foods in Little Italy an Associated Supermarket in Chelsea, a Key Food in East Harlem and Inwood—have all shuttered. In Brooklyn, a Key Food in Clinton Hill and Gowanus have also closed.

There has also been an economic impact. Crain’s referenced a joint report by the city’s Department of Health, Department of City Planning and Economic Development Corp., a typical 30,000 square-foot store provides between 100 and 200 jobs. When the Pathmark on 125th Street in East Harlem closed, the local economy lost 236 employees—about a quarter of all supermarket jobs in the area. Each grocery worker generates approximately $2,800 annually in city taxes.

Councilman Corey Johnson said in a statement of the latest proposal, that it “would give our neighborhood supermarkets a fighting chance for survival. As the cost of living continues to rise, the stores help ensure that our city can continue to accommodate the seniors and working class families that built our city into what it is today.”

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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