Anger over underground supermarket
by Daniel Bush
Apr 19, 2011 | 3742 views | 0 0 comments | 74 74 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The development company behind an underground supermarket coming to Fort Greene is facing criticism from public housing residents for a design that will have them descending into the basement of an upscale apartment building to shop for fresh produce.

The Red Apple Group is planning to open the grocery store underneath The Andrea, on Myrtle Avenue and Ashland Place, sometime this summer.

It would be accessed by an elevator and escalator from the building's yet-to-open ground-floor CVS, and is meant to replace the Associated Supermarket that was torn down in 2006 by developer John Catsimatidis, who owns the site as well as the Gristedes Foods chain in Manhattan.

News of a supermarket was met with excitement from residents in the area, many of whom live in public housing and have limited access to fresh, affordably-priced food.

But the plan to house the store below ground has sparked anger in a community where tensions are fraught between the wealthy newcomers who have taken up residence in nearby luxury towers, and low-income families who feel increasingly marginalized.

For some, a subterranean store was a potent symbol of displacement.

“Why can't they put it in the bottom floor?” said Ron Britt, at a recent meeting with representatives from the Red Apple Group. “We've been waiting for this supermarket for five years.”

Red Apple spokesperson Vince Tabone said the company negotiated its first commercial lease for the 218 Myrtle Avenue building with CVS, which secured the ground-floor space, leaving no room there for the 10,000-square foot supermarket. (A cafe will occupy the rest of the floor).

Regardless of its location, “It's going to be the kind of supermarket you will want to shop at,” Tabone said. “We're keeping our pledge” to open “a neighborhood supermarket.”

Red Apple was approached by the city to redevelop its property on Myrtle Avenue, which consisted of the Associated supermarket, a Duane Reade and other stores, but the company is not obligated to build a grocery store, though clearly a new one is needed.

Tabone did not say how much it would cost to build the Red Apple supermarket.

Officials acknowledged the store's design was unusual.

“At first glance, putting a supermarket in a basement is not ideal,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who helped negotiate the deal to bring a grocery store to the area.

But if it is accessible to seniors and the disabled, and offers healthy, inexpensive food, they argued, that would be an improvement for residents who have spent five years taking the bus or walking long distances to do their food shopping.

As Councilwoman Letitia James put it, “It's either this or nothing.”

This is widely understood. Still, the fear remains that the store will target wealthier shoppers at the expense of poorer Fort Greene residents.

“We've been shut down, lied to about the supermarket,” said Lillian Greene, a member of Families United For Racial and Economic Equality. “Let us be a part of what's going on over there.”

Tabone insisted the store will meet nearly all of the recommendations laid out by residents at the meeting, which was organized by District Leader Lincoln Restler and FUREE: it will be ADA-compliant, spacious and offer organic foods along with affordable Shop Rite-brand products.

Besides, Tabone said, “if we don't price this right, it's going to fail.” He added, “we're not in the business of failure.”

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