Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More Vanishing Supermarkets

In today's Queens section of the NY Daily News, the paper focuses in on the plight of the disappearing supermarket in that borough: "All over the city, especially in poorer neighborhoods such as southern Queens, smaller supermarkets are disappearing, forcing people to trek to larger stores or buy their groceries at local bodegas or even drug stores...A new City Planning Department report - "Going to Market: New York City's Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage" - documents a dearth of local supermarkets in all five boroughs. Parts of southeast Queens and Far Rockaway have been hit the hardest."

The News quotes Councilman Leroy Comrie about how the supermarket deficit affects his mostly low and moderate income community: "It's all too familiar for City Councilman Leroy Comrie Jr., who has watched four supermarkets close in his southeast Queens district in recent years. Not everyone can drive to the large discount stores just over the border in Nassau County, the councilman said. "People would still prefer to shop locally and save gas and time if they could find products and quality they like," Comrie said. "And not everyone has the shelf space to store bulk items."

While the supermarkets keep on closing, the city is slowly looking to respond to the problem-convening a supermarket task force in order to devise a set of policy recommendations. In our view, something more immediate and proactive needs to be done here. As we told the News: "If supermarkets are the linchpin of healthy food access as the Department of Health and the Department of Planning has said, then they have to aggressively work at subsidies or tax abatements or zoning changes," said Richard Lipsky, a spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance."

And, given the drastic nature of the decline, the city should be identifying spots where markets can be located in the neighborhoods that are most impacted. And if that means utilizing the right of eminent domain to clear space, then so be it. If ED can be used to aggrandize the wealthy, then it can also to used to insure that poor neighborhoods have access to health foods.

The Daily News also prints this useful supermarket fact sheet:

Three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods without grocery stores.

Those areas in Queens include Corona, Jamaica and Far Rockaway.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables is lowest in parts of southeast Queens, where rates of obesity and diabetes are high.

None of the community board areas in Queens meets the city Planning Department standard, which is 30,000 square feet of supermarket space per 10,000 people.