By Mark Hallum
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called attention to the need for a new grocery store in a vacant retail space formerly occupied by Waldbaums in Whitestone at a news conference Friday.
Since the chain filed for bankruptcy last year, many of its assets were picked up by Key Food and other companies. But the absence of a grocery store at 153-01 10th Ave. has forced many elderly residents to travel much further for the food they need.
Some 100 residents joined Avella in the summer heat to publicly call for a new store. Avella spoke about rumors about the commercial space being divided up and being turned into a pharmacy, which residents agreed there were too many of in the area as it is.
“Now I have to go to the closest place, Key Food,” said Stan Stolar, a resident who lives west of the where Waldbaums did business. Stolar remarked that a trip to the former supermarket used to take five minutes. Now he and his wife, who uses a walker, must drive to get their shopping done.
“The fact that over 100 people showed up in this heat shows the demand the community has for a full-service supermarket,” Avella said. “If the rumors of a subdivision are true, the community will lose all opportunity to get that space back should a new tenant fail to succeed.”
According to Avella, the organization that currently owns the vacant space had reassured the senator it would only consider renting the space out to supermarkets when the bankruptcy action occurred and the Whitestone location was not reoccupied by a new business.
“Although my office kept in contact with them for months, in the last two months all of a sudden they weren’t returning phone calls,” Avella said. When he was finally able to renew contact with company company officials, company officials?said they were unable to deny they were planning to subdivide the space, he said.
Avella speculated that North Shore Farms, a high-end grocery store chain, would be moving into one of the subdivided spaces and a pharmacy would occupy another space. With much of the neighborhood being a “naturally occurring retirement community” with residents on fixed incomes, Avella said a high-priced supermarket would be bound to fail.
Key Food was able to acquire a number of Walbaums locations during its bankruptcy, several of which will be going to trial for allegedly violating contracts with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342. The store at 35-10 Francis Lewis Blvd. has seen picketers from the UFCW handing out fliers asking customers to shop elsewhere.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall