BY ELISSA STEIN | The windows sport “Store Closing” signs. Almost every aisle has empty shelves. A countdown of how many days are left greets patrons as they enter the front door.
Anxious conversations are occurring in supermarket aisles, at the cash registers, on sidewalk corners, in building lobbies, and at school pickups, colored with shock, disappointment, anger and frustration.
“Where will I go for basics?” is the most frequently heard concern.
In the past few years, local supermarkets have been closing and haven’t been replaced with anything comparable. The former Gristedes space on 14th St. is now a discount mart. What was once D’Agostino on University Place is the upscale Agata & Valentina. And the former Sixth Ave. storefront of Jefferson Market, another longtime neighborhood staple, remains empty.
Now, as first reported two weeks ago in The Villager, the Food Emporium, on Sixth Ave. at 12th St., is slated to close its doors, in early May.
With each closing, shoppers have faced an increasing challenge on where to find basics without having to leave the neighborhood. While some mention Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as alternatives, they’re not. Not that there isn’t a place for an olive bar and fair-trade cocoa. But people also want the option of buying half-sour pickles and Swiss Miss — not to mention Jell-O, Brillo and Ore-Ida fries, Reynolds Wrap and garbage bags — without having to board a bus.
It’s particularly an issue for the elderly. One local resident knew of people in her building who visited the Food Emporium three times a day, since they couldn’t carry all their purchases in one trip. For such senior Villagers, traveling to more expensive stores is prohibitive, due to both the distance and cost.
And what about when the Rudin residential redevelopment project at the former St. Vincent’s brings in hundreds of new apartments?
Some have already noted an increase in their buildings’ FreshDirect deliveries. While that might be convenient for some, added deliveries will further back up already congested streets and sidewalks.
The thought of yet another drugstore in an area congested with drugstores has residents writing to local politicians, planning boycotts of Food Emporium’s new tenant and signing petitions protesting the change. Between the Rite Aid, Ricky’s, Ansonia and Bigelow’s on Sixth Ave., and the two Duane Reades on Seventh Ave., one wonders if companies think Villagers have an insatiable appetite for drugstores.
This supermarket closing is about a cash-poor parent company and a valuable location, but the bigger reality is the Village is changing. Real estate prices continue to rise and many local businesses can no longer survive. No matter how frequently we patronize our favorite shops, in the end, changing neighborhood demographics will continue to shape how we shop and live in the future.