Tuesday, April 29, 2008

East Harlem Supermarket Task Force

Or friends at Local 1500 of the UFCW have alerted us to the establishment of an East Harlem Supermarket task force; it seems that El Barrio is experiencing the same gentrification tsunami that have forced supermarkets out of other neighborhood. The task force is being spearheaded by Senator Serrano and Assemblyman Powell, but includes the Coalition Against Hunger, the DOH, WEACT, Mt. Sinai, Council member Viverito and of course Local 1500. We're taking the liberty of highlighting some of the task force's key focal points:

Challenges Faced by Supermarkets

(1)"The core problem is renewal of leases." As old leases expire, cost of rents so high that it becomes prohibitive to renew;

(2) Large corporate drug stores are often able to provide same products for lower prices than independent supermarkets;

(3) Supermarkets rep say that street vendors selling fresh produce cut into their profits. If healthy options are an integral part of protecting supermarkets, then we have to consider the profit margin of the healthy foods they sell;

(4) Traffic issues of major concern. Road work impedes deliveries.Loading docks needed. Apparently, wholesaler White Rose spent $750,000 in parking tickets last year alone;

(5) Examples like the new development at 135th Street across from Harlem Hospital. The landlords wants to keep C-Town but the new rent they offer is overwhelming. It's noted that many sites of priced-out supermarkets remain vacant for a long time. (Landlords go from wanting to make so much money to making no money at all;

(6) Overzealous inspectors will sometimes create headaches over relatively small violations at the supermarket.

We think that these issues are generic to neighborhoods all over the city, and as the task force points out, there are some important policy steps that need to be considered:

Possible Courses of Action and Related

(1)Developing an system whereby landlords receive property tax abatements if they invite supermarkets and then maintain affordable rents for them over time (to which we would add waiving the commercial real estate tax for supermarket space);

(2) Developing dedicated loading zones in back of markets, as well as dedicated off-hour loading times;

(3) Off-grade rental spaces still cost a lot, but are significant lower than street level. Could be an option in the new developments going up;

(4) Increase advocacy on food stamps. Food stamp participation has declined by 320,000 people in the last 12 years. Increasing this number will bring increased revenue at supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods. Also: we could look at ways of spacing out food stamp availability, to reduce the imbalance of supermarket profits over course of the month.

This is the kind of brainstorming that needs to be done on a city wide level, and we congratulate the East Harlem group. The combined grocery price rise with the disappearance of local supermarkets is reaching a crisis level. It needs to be addressed pronto if we're going to have a truly sustainable city.