Thursday, July 16, 2009

Supermarket Kerfluffle

The battle over the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory goes into its next phase-and we're hopeful that a more rational venue awaits as the community, along with beleaguered supermarket owners and their workers concerned about a possible mega food mart in the development, proceed to the upcoming hearing at the office of Bronx BP Ruben Diaz on July 27th.

And in this morning's NY Daily News, Albor Ruiz frames the problem from the vantage of two of the workers at Morton Williams Supermarkets: "From the time Giuliani was mayor to this day, the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx has elicited many different - and strong - opinions on what it should look like. But for Virginia Tribelli, there is one issue that is crystal-clear. "We don't want a big-box supermarket in the armory. We don't need it, and we are hoping that the community board votes against it," Tribelli said, referring to the nonbinding, largely symbolic vote by Bronx Community Board 7 that took place on Tuesday."

Tribelli, along with her co-worker Orlando Olave, have worked at the local store for years and have been-after being hired locally-promoted up the ranks into supervisory positions: "I did not know any English when I started," said Tribelli, an immigrant from Italy. "But this is a good company to work for and I worked my way up. I wouldn't know where to go if the store closes." She would not be the only one. Seventy workers from the store where she works would quickly find themselves without jobs. Sixty more who make their living at another Morton Williams a few blocks away would be unemployed soon after, she said. "Most of these people are from the community, they have roots in the community. It would be a nightmare," Tribelli said. "And not only for us; hundreds of other people would be affected, too."

And Olave, for his part, sees how such a mega store intrusion wouldn't just hurt Morton Williams: "Olave is certain that a big-box supermarket in the armory would wreak havoc with the neighborhood's already fragile economy. A father of three, he has worked for Morton Williams for 26 years, during which he moved up from floor-cleaner to supervisor."

But we're buoyed by the support from the area's local elected officials-particularly Council member Maria Baez who is gathering signatures on a petition opposing any big box food use in the Armory. And the community coalition rallied against the redevelopment scheme yesterday, attracting Bill Thompson as well as numerous other electeds. Given the growing groundswell of support the local businesses are hopeful that a more rational development plan emerges in the months ahead.


Unfortunately, the Ruiz column got truncated in its on-line version; and left out the meat of his observations on the unfairness of the current proposed redevelopment scheme. Here's his citation of Olave's incisive remarks: ""We don't need a big box store," a concerned Olave said. It's not only us and the other supermarkets. I don't even want to think about what will happen to the mom-and-pop stores, the bodegas, the 99 cent discounts. Fordham Road businesses would be killed."

And then Ruiz finished with a flourish-getting to the heart of the inequity of using tax payer money for this plan: "The question people like Tribelli and Olave keep asking is why should the city give millions in subsidies to a project that, according to them, will compete with the community businesses and will result in greater unemployment and more "For Rent" signs in the neighborhood?"

This is the challenge facing the City Council. We're optimistic that they will be up to it.