Friday, March 05, 2010

A Super Idea

City Room is reporting about the public support for the entry of a new supermarket into Harlem: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Sisyphean efforts to get New Yorkers to replace their passion for French fries with an appreciation of salads is making progress: Harlem is getting a supermarket specializing in lower-priced fruits and vegetables. On Friday morning, city officials are expected to cut the ribbon on Best Yet Market, a city outpost of the family-run Long Island supermarket chain, at 2187 Frederick Douglass Boulevard between West 118th and 119th Streets. The event is ceremonial: the store actually opened a month ago."

Now we're not sure that this event can be properly placed into the Bloomberg win column-the public subsidy did, after all, come from the empowerment zone: "Best Yet’s owners are also benefiting from government incentives to move into Harlem. They received a $1 million loan from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone to help open the market. Officials of the empowerment zone also helped with hiring in the neighborhood. Roughly one-third of the 140 workers come from Upper Manhattan."

Still, this is good news-and underscores our point that the provision of fresh fruits and veggies should come from new store development-not more peddlers on the street. And, in addition, there are store owners who have served low income neighborhoods for years; they shouldn't be ignored when public subsidies are being considered.

A policy of supermarket development simply can't ignore the need to nurture and preserve existing supermarkets. As the NY Times pointed out last year: "Across the city, supermarkets and grocery stores have been driven out by slim margins, restrictive zoning requirements and high rents in recent years."

So, while the entry of this one small store is good news, we're still waiting for the kind of policy changes that will make it easier for existing markets to not only survive, but to grow and prosper. This change, however, must entail tax and regulatory policies that impede these food businesses from simply surviving.