BY ELISSA STEIN | Hidden behind the shopping carts, so as not to upset customers, are stacks of bold “STORE CLOSING” signs, to be hung in windows this weekend at the Food Emporium, at 12th St. and Sixth Ave.
Food Emporium, which has been at the location for more than 50 years, will be shutting its doors in early May. Permanently.
Along with the Greenwich Village outpost, the Food Emporium at 68th St. and Broadway will be closing as well. A&P, Food Emporium’s parent company, emerged from bankruptcy last year. It was still trying to sell its Manhattan locations, when it was announced in March that Madison Capital, a private investment group specializing in real estate, was purchasing the leases to both supermarket sites. When asked for more information about what will happen to the Downtown store, a Madison Capital spokesperson commented that they don’t talk about deals until they are closed.
While Food Emporium had been working to find the right balance of trendy and food-forward with the necessary staples of a well-rounded supermarket, this loss will leave a gaping hole in the neighborhood, which already lost Jefferson Market in the not-too-distant past.
When asked about the closing of the Village market, one of the longtime cashiers said, “This is very sad for the people, very, very sad,” referring to both the store’s employees and customers. The shocked staff received letters early this month, informing them of the closing, of possible payouts for union members, of eligibility for unemployment.
Many of the workers have been at the location for dozens of years. One, who started there in 1967, at age 16, was tearful as she talked about the community that was being torn apart. She spoke of former customers who grew up in Greenwich Village and stopped by, years later, to say hello. She recalled the P.S. 41 kindergarteners who took annual field trips to the market to learn about shopping. And then there was 9/11, when the supermarket staff served sandwiches and drinks to the hundreds of people snaking past the storefront waiting to donate blood at St. Vincent’s.
She worried about the challenges of terminated workers finding new jobs in an already-tight marketplace, and also worried about her elderly customers, who will no longer have a local place to shop.
With hundreds of new apartments flooding 12th St. from the Rudin redevelopment of the former St. Vincent’s site in the near future, it’s impossible to imagine where all these new and current residents will buy milk, fresh asparagus and dishwashing detergent.
And, as if the loss of a supermarket isn’t enough, rumors are swirling that the Sixth Ave. location will become a Walgreens, as if this small stretch of city needs yet another drugstore.
John Catsimatidis, owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain and a current Republican candidate for mayor, said of the rumors about the Sixth Ave. site, “I heard that too. That’s going to be a Walgreens,” he confirmed.
Supermarkets simply can’t pay as much as Walgreens is willing to offer, he said.
“I can just say, it was a great supermarket,” he said of the Food Emporium.
After Jefferson Market’s original owners sold out, Catsimatidis briefly ran the famed store, but couldn’t make a go of it, and the space has sat vacant for several years.
“It was an oddball location, and we were unable to make it work,” he told The Villager.
Meanwhile, he said, people can shop at his Gristedes on W. Fourth St., “four to five blocks away” from the Food Emporium site.
As for opening another supermarket in the area, he said, “If you find another location, we’ll take it.”
by Lincoln Anderson