BY JASMINE PALMA
Hoping to prevent the closure of a Key Food grocery store in Astoria, three northwest Queens lawmakers asked the landlord of the building to offer the grocers a short-term lease.
Councilman Costa Constantinides, state Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas made the request Monday after news broke that another Astoria grocery store — Best Market, located at 19-30 37th St. — announced plans to close mid-August, Patch first reported.
“The imminent closure of these two stores will deal a serious blow to northern Astoria, which already doesn’t have access to enough quality, nutritious food,” Constantinides said. “A second wave of COVID-19 is a constant worry, especially the closer we get to the fall. The long lines to get into grocery stores during the peak this spring might only get longer with the loss of Key Food and temporary closure of Best Market. More than ever, Astoria residents deserve close access to food, especially as the demands for more meals at home remains.”
Owners of the Key Food located at 22-15 31st St., filed a WARN notice with the New York State Department of Labor — a formal filing that indicates plans to layoff workers en masse — earlier this month.
The landlord, Jenel Management, plans to tear down the building that currently houses the grocery store for the development of a three-floor building, where a Target will occupy the upper two floors and a supermarket will be housed on the ground level.
Despite attempts to remain in the building, Key Food has not been offered a negotiation that would permit their stay, according to Constantinides’ office.
Meanwhile, Best Market on 37th Street expects to close mid-August as it transitions into a German international discount supermarket, Lidl. Despite the change in stores, all employees will be reportedly rehired. The Lidl isn’t anticipated to open until early next year.
Astoria elected officials have long voiced their disapproval of the Target Project.
In May of 2019, labor activists, elected officials, and grocery store employees rallied to pressure Jenel Management to negotiate a lease with Key Food that would save the union jobs of store employees.
Constantinides, Ramos, and Simotas sent a letter last week probing Jenel to identify the grocery store that is allegedly replacing Key Food.
“It’s important to know which retailer could be calling Astoria home in the near future, especially because of Key Food’s strong commitment to organized labor. In fact, we saw a strong partnership between Key Food and UFCW Local 1500 through this crisis,” the letter read. “We don’t want an exemplary employer to be replaced by a bad actor. Union labor is America’s backbone. With every union job that’s lost, we widen the wealth gap and help the rich get richer. That’s something we must tirelessly fight against because every drop in the bucket matters.”
In one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily briefings in late May, he reported that an estimated 1 million people faced food insecurity prior to the pandemic. Now, he says, the city believes the number may be 2 million or more.
“The empty shelves and the difficulty of finding basic food items like flour, eggs, and milk are memories that’ll stay with us for some time. In fact, we stand to see a sequel this fall — as already growing food insecurity approaches the threshold of crisis,” the letter continued. “So, we ask that you extend Key Food’s current lease for the short-term, in order to avoid having a supermarket boarded up while a global pandemic still rages on. We understand that we’re in uncharted territory and even the best epidemiology.”
Constantinides alluded to de Blasio’s statistic and expressed his concern in regards to the city’s increasing shortage of food in homes.
“What we’re experiencing in northern Astoria is a microcosm of an issue all across this city. My office is committed to working with the City, our grocery store unions, and our community to make sure western Queens has access to both fulfilling food and jobs,” he said.