Upwards of 100 people gathered outside the soon-to-be-shuttered Key Food this past Saturday to protest the loss of another supermarket in the community.
The store, at 9408 Third Ave., will be replaced by a Walgreen’s, opening in 2009. Walgreen’s has signed a lease for the property, for 20 years, with an option to renew. Once Key Food closes, the closest supermarket will be Foodtown at 9105 Third Ave.
Carrying signs reading “Can’t Shop, Can’t Eat: How Did This Happen to Us,” and “This Headache No Pharmacy Can Cure! Don’t Drive? Don’t Eat,” the protesters made clear their opposition to yet another drugstore in a neighborhood where there is no dearth of chains such as Rite Aid and CVS, but a distinct lack of large food stores.
“I remember when Bay Ridge was home to a great number of supermarkets,” noted State Senator Marty Golden. “The closing of the Key Food is just the most recent example of how supermarkets are leaving this neighborhood.”
Denise Loli, a Bay Ridge resident who organized a petition drive to demonstrate how many area residents oppose the replacement of a supermarket by a drugstore, said that those living close to Key Food, will be, “Left with Foodtown. It won’t service everybody. Even if it’s expanded, it’s going to be too crowded. We feel that it (the Key Food site) has been a supermarket for 50 years, and it should be kept that way.”
The largest impact will be felt by seniors and the disabled, added Annette Gerage, who said that, for many, it will be a hardship to have to walk a few extra blocks to do their grocery shopping. Gerage stressed. “Sometimes, it takes them hours to do something that we might do in half an hour.”
The supermarket is, “very important for the community because there are so few of them,” Arlene Fisichelli explained. “I have a car, so I can shop anywhere, but the seniors around here are really at a disadvantage. I’m afraid the other supermarket will jack up their prices.”
Mary Kahan attended the rally on her scooter. She said that the impending closure of Key Food, whose aisles she can navigate, really limits her because many of the aisles at Foodtown are too narrow for her to get through. “I have three children and they rely on my doing food shopping,” said Kahan, adding that, if she loses access to a supermarket, she would, “Probably have my sister do my shopping, because I can’t go anywhere.”
Nonetheless, residents and activists are encouraged by signs that Walgreen’s is heeding their concerns. Golden told those at the rally that the company had agreed to meet with residents and merchants to discuss what is needed. “This is progress,” he stressed. “We are headed in the right direction.”
“We are in the very early stages,” stressed Carol Hively, a Walgreen’s spokesperson. “We just recently became aware of the concerns so we did reach out to the senator’s office and let them know we are interested in working with the community.”
While a meeting has not yet been held, the corporation indicated, said Golden spokesperson John Quaglione, that it has added produce and meat to its offerings when circumstances warranted.
In addition, Quaglione said that Walgreen’s had told him that the store would sell 2,000 different items carried in supermarkets. “It wouldn’t be a typical supermarket but the best of both worlds in one store. A boycott is the last thing they want,” he stressed.
Bay Ridge is hardly alone in confronting a loss of supermarkets. Rather, the situation is replicated around the five boroughs, so much so that another protest was held on the steps of City Hall.
“This is not only a major quality-of-life issue, but a public health issue,” noted Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who also attended the Key Food rally. “When a neighborhood is starved of basics such as nearby supermarkets and groceries, that neighborhood can become as weak as a human body without nourishment.”
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile – who also attended both rallies – concurred. “When you take away a neighborhood grocery,” he noted during the City Hall event, “you’re hitting people from both sides as gas prices continue to skyrocket and people are forced to go outside their communities to buy food.”