Queens officials turn up heat on Astoria landlord to prevent longtime supermarket from closing

State Senator Jessica Ramos, leading other local politicians and labor advocates pressured Jenel to work with Key Food on a lease that would allow it to stay at the property with the big-box store, retaining the unions jobs that the store provides.
Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

Astoria elected officials, labor activists, grocery store employees and community leaders rallied on Friday, May 10, to save the Astoria Key Food supermarket from being pushed out of the neighborhood after over 40 years of business.

The building’s landlord Jenel Management recently filed demolition permits for the 22-15 31st St. property in order to build a three-story Target at the site. Speakers at the rally, led by state Senator Jessica Ramos, pressured Jenel to work with Key Food on a lease that would allow it to stay at the property with the big-box store, retaining the unions jobs that the store provides.

“Target is not only trying to open one but two stores in my district, attempting to essentially whitewash and do away without mom-and-pop shops, including a Key Food supermarket that our neighborhood has depended on for decades,” said Ramos.

Ramos argued her case on the terms that Target’s two forthcoming developments in the borough, on the Astoria property as well as in Elmhurst, hurt local businesses and eliminate union jobs. She added that Key Foods, has worked with local stores in the area.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who took the podium after Ramos, said that the grocer was uniquely situated to cater to the neighborhood’s senior population who won’t be able to walk to other surrounding stores without it.

“We understand your greed, but you need to also think about the community you hope to join,” said Gianaris. “If you want us to shop at your Target, you better hope there is a Key Food in this building as well.”

About 60 of the Astoria Key Food employees are unionized as a part of UFCW Local 1500. Key Food franchise owner Larry Mandell, who was present at the rally, told QNS that he plans to continue fighting to stay at the location.

“Larry is one of the bosses who we work with and get contracts with every year without a strike, without a problem. He’s a man of his word. We love him. I’ll say that publicly. We love you,” said Tony Speelman, president of UFCW Local 1500.

The development of the new Target is slated to begin when the Key Foods lease ends in 2020. Though the ground floor and lower level of the new development are reported to be designated for retail, it remains unclear whether Jenel will permit the grocery store to stay terms that the grocer deems to be favorable.

Michael Hirschorn, the president of Jenel Management, has said that talks with Key Food suspended three months ago when the grocer turned down a deal to occupy 25,000 square feet of space in the new building.

Nicholas Roloson, chief of staff for Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides, stood in for the councilman, who was absent due to a family emergency. Roloson rebuffed Hirschorn’s account of the negotiation process.

“We are seeing mischaracterizations that Key Food was offered discounts to operate in the basement of this building. Does that sound like a fair deal operating in the basement of this building?” Rolson said. “We are here to ask now to stop ignoring the will of the community and to say here that we need Key Food here.”

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