Friday, February 25, 2011

Non-Kosher Food Fund?

The NY Daily News is continuing to report on the fact that a Kosher supermarket in Brooklyn has received $2 million to expand: "An angrily divided community board has voted to support a controversial tax break for a Midwood supermarket. Supporters and opponents of the $2 million tax break for Moisha's Discount Supermarket clashed at a raucous Community Board 12 meeting Tuesday night over the plan - and allegations district manager Wolf Sender lied to city officials when he said the board supported the subsidy, even though members had never considered it."

What's missing from the article, however, is the source of the funds-there is the city's Fresh Program that supports supermarket expansion; along with a similar state effort called, "Healthy Food and Healthy Communities Fund." It would be interesting to find out since the community here is not one that is typically seen as underserved.

The Karma Brooklyn Blog gives us an answer: "On February 3rd, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (IDA) held a hearing on an application to FRESH by Moisha's Kosher Discount Supermarket. The Project Description reads
Moisha’s Kosher Discount Supermarket, Inc. (“Moisha’s” or the “Company”) currently operates a 7,000 square foot retail supermarket in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Moisha’s is seeking assistance through the Agency’s FRESH program to expand this facility to create an approximately 15,000 sq. ft. supermarket with parking for 45 cars."
As the Daily News pointed out in an earlier story, the grant to Moishe's is controversial-with CM Barron being the most vocal critic:  

"A politically connected Brooklyn supermarket is getting a $2 million tax break intended for neighborhoods desperate for grocery stores - even though it's got plenty of competition.Moisha's Kosher Discount Supermarket is to receive $1.93 million to double its size on Avenue M in Midwood. The money comes from the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program - which targets neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn, northern Manhattan, the South Bronx and other neighborhoods where fresh food is hard to find. Even though Moisha's is outside the target zone, city officials say the neighborhood counts as "underserved."

To us, this means that the entire Fresh Program needs to be re-evaluated. Our own view-devloped from the experience of some of our good friends in the supermarket business-is that the effort is woefully inadequate, and will little to help assuage the city's loss of over 300 supermarkets in the past decade. The dominant question here, is how has the Fresh Program helped those areas most in need. Midwood is not one of those neighborhoods.

As the News points out, "The Daily News counted 10 markets within 5 blocks of the store, all selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Owners Moisha and Barry Binik and their families have doled out at least $41,690 in contributions to local pols in the last decade. "This is not an underserved neighborhood," said Louie Mancuso, 60, who lives across the street. "That's a fraud."

With Walmart poised to enter the city, and using the underserved food desert argument as part of their propaganda, it is important to take a look at all of the city's efforts to address the problems that local supermarkets face in their efforts to expand and become more profitable. The fact that Moisha's may have used its political influence to unfairly influence the selection process, raises questions of both equity and efficacy. In a strange way, Walmart's appropriation of the food access issue could become a catalyst to examine how effective-or not-the Bloombergistas have been in meeting the need for better access to fresh food.