Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bronx Talk about Supermarkets

We appeared (by phone) last night on Bronx Talk along with Councilman Jimmy Vacca, to talk about the supermarket crisis. The program has posted an interesting article, more like a compendium, that details much of what we have been discussing regarding the disappearing supermarkets: "A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

In the discussion last night, we hit upon this theme, and Vacca detailed his fight to prevent the closing of the Met Supermarket that has been in the Pelham Gardens neighborhood for decades. Jimmy called for a government assistance program for supermarkets in order to make them more affordable for neighborhoods where rising rents are forcing too many of them out.

As the Bronx talk article points out: "The supermarket closings — not confined to poor neighborhoods — result from rising rents and slim profit margins, among other causes. They have forced residents to take buses or cabs to the closest supermarkets in some areas. Those with cars can drive, but the price of gasoline is making some think twice about that option. In many places, residents said the lack of competition has led to rising prices in the remaining stores." Clearly, as we pointed out last night, it is past time for a strong government response.

This response needs to come from the mayor himself, since his administration has called the access to fresh produce a public health necessity; and the supermarket has been designated by the Bloombergistas as the linchpin of the supply chain for the needed fruits and veggies. Here the BT article cites the DCP report: "“Many people in low-income neighborhoods are spending their food budget at discount stores or pharmacies where there is no fresh produce,” said Amanda Burden, the city’s planning director. “In our study, a significant percentage of them reported that in the day before our survey, they had not eaten fresh fruit or vegetables. Not one. That really is a health crisis in the city.”

Finally, the BT article highlights the fight over the closing of the Key Food supermarket in the Bronx, and underscores the efforts of Local 1500 of the UFCW to stem the efflux of local supermarkets: "Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents the store’s workers, have made this Key Food in the Bronx the poster child for a citywide campaign to preserve local supermarkets. “We’re at a point where landlords do not feel any concern that they are taking supermarkets out of communities,” said Pat Purcell, the union’s director of special projects. “They just want to maximize their profit. I get that, up to a point. But food is different. It affects your health.”

In the next few weeks, Key Food and the Distrusters at Vornado are going to be in the eye of the storm. Vornado will soon become the Tornado that galvanized all of NYC to make supermarket survival a number one priority.