The National Supermarket Association (NSA), community leaders and elected officials, including New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat, rallied today on East 116th Street, East Harlem, New York.
The event was organized to denounce the imminent shuttering of City Fresh Market at the end of the month, and to demand that both Walgreens and the building owner work with the community to preserve local access to healthy, affordable groceries.
The rally follows months of conversations between Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Fresh Market owner Anthony Espinal, the property owner, and Walgreens to negotiate an outcome that would keep the store open for the neighborhood.
City Fresh Market is an important asset to the community, especially after the closure of another significant local supermarket in East Harlem – Pathmark on East 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. Estimated to have served over 30,000 local residents, Pathmark’s closure left over 200 employees out of work and drastically changed the food landscape of the neighborhood.
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Though a dozen other smaller grocery stores serve East Harlem, few consistently stock fresh fruit and vegetables for local customers and families, instead stocking cheaper, unhealthy food items. Whole Foods is slotted to open at West 125th street and Malcolm X Boulevard in early 2017, yet it is likely that the chain will not address the needs of many community members, as it is potentially too expensive for many East Harlem residents.
Residents in food deserts like East Harlem are often forced to shop for groceries at local bodegas or delis, a practice which impacts the nutrition and overall food habits of local residents and families. Studies have shown that many of these areas are plagued with malnutrition, elevated levels of obesity, and other diet-related health problems.
Over 100 people attended the rally including representatives from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – District Public Health Office, Community Board 11, Food Bank For New York City and the New York Academy of Medicine.
“Similar to many other independent grocery stores throughout New York City, this City Fresh Market fills a needed void in East Harlem, providing residents easy access to affordable and healthy foods options,” said National Supermarket Association President Rodolfo Fuertes. “For a community historically deprived of healthy food choices, East Harlem needs more supermarkets, not added barriers that force families to travel to great distances for the bare essentials.”
“My store has fed this community for years and provided good paying jobs to local residents,” said City Fresh Market owner Adriano Espaillat. “The overwhelming support my supermarket has received from area elected officials, community groups, local leaders and East Harlemites should not go unnoticed. I hope that the decision makers will heed East Harlem’s call for healthy and affordable food, and allow City Fresh Market to continue serving this neighborhood for many years to come.”
“El Barrio/East Harlem is in dire need of access to fresh groceries and losing yet another supermarket in less than a year will leave families scrambling as they struggle to find ways to provide affordable food to their families,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Any business that wants to operate in El Barrio must be fully invested in the livelihood of the neighborhood they seek to become members of. I urge Walgreens and the building owner to work in partnership with our community to come up with a solution to maintain a supermarket in this space.”
“Access to fresh and affordable food is key to keeping our communities healthy. However, in East Harlem and across our city, small businesses that provide residents with balanced nutritional options are being forced out,” said State Senator Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan/Bronx). “We must protect our neighborhood supermarkets to reverse this trend. In Washington Heights, Walgreens worked with a local supermarket so they could remain open and I hope a similar agreement can be reached here.”
“Throughout New York City, too many small businesses are being forced to close their doors,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “City Fresh Market is just the latest example of a community-built and community-loved business that is being threatened by skyrocketing costs, despite its invaluable contribution to Harlem. Every New Yorker deserves access to quality and affordable food and we need to do more to ensure that our residents and their local businesses are taken care of.”
For more info go to www.nsaglobal.org
Editor’s note: We hope that the decision makers can to find a win-win scenario that the community and the companies are happy with.