Shoppers rally to save Key Food

Leading the charge to keep Key Food open in Bruckner Plaza are (l-r) Councilwoman Anabel Palma, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr., Richard Lipsky, and Councilman James Vacca. A group of protestors from all walks of life gathered, decrying the landlord’s decision to raise his rents, forcing out the supermarket. - Photo by Kevin Heckman

On Thursday, May 22 residents of Soundview and elected officials from around the borough rallied at Bruckner Plaza to protest the possible eviction of their local Key Food supermarket.

Despite its presence in the community for over 40 years, the shopping center’s landlord, Vornado Realty and Trust, is considering forcing the market out when its lease expires at the end of the year.

Vornado, which purchased the Bruckner Plaza Mall last year for $165 million, wants to rent the supermarket’s 30,000 square-foot space for $50 a foot; a rate that is not realistic for the independently-owned supermarket that has served as the retail center’s anchor, along with K-Mart and Staples.

“There is no way a supermarket in this neighborhood can afford this rent,” said Richard Lipsky, of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, which speaks on behalf of neighborhood retailers like Pick Quick Foods owner Jules Levine, who operates the local Key Food.

According to Lipsky, the Key Food serves over 850,000 customers a year and accepts over $2 million in food stamps for local residents.

Fighting for these residents, Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblyman Rueben Diaz Jr., Councilwoman Anabel Palma and Councilman James Vacca led the rally, which also included members of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Community Board 9 chairman Enrique Vega, and various leaders of local tenant and co-op organizations.

The diverse group is confronting Vornado to insist the multi-billion dollar realty company act as a good corporate citizen.

“When everybody else left this area, Key Food was here,” said Senator Diaz. “Now everyone wants to make money off of us.”

Diaz said Key Food is the only place in the community where many residents can shop.

“There is too much greed happening in our community,” noted Assemblyman Diaz. “Now we are losing our supermarkets.”

Members of the Pelham Gardens community, in Vacca’s district, showed solidarity with the group, since that community is also being threatened with the loss of a supermarket.

“There are a group of people who have more money than you or I, who want even more money,” Vacca stated. “When we move into a neighborhood, we expect that the supermarkets will come to us. They have sold us down the river for the almighty dollar.”

Local leaders were thankful for the support, and have decided to take advantage of the united front . 

“Councilmember Vacca’s community is being threatened by the closure of a supermarket in his district, and we want to make sure that we work together to take this fight citywide,” Palma said.

Cheryl Rodriquez, vice president of the Boulevard Towers Tenants Association, said if the independently run Key Food closed, many elderly residents with pushcarts would have to cross Bruckner Boulevard to shop.

“We would have to cross over to the other side of the Bruckner, which is a dangerous crossing,” Rodriquez said. “Key Food has been here a long time, and they have served the community well. We would like them to stay.”

One fact making saving the supermarket a major priority is that the city has identified the Soundview community as especially at risk for health problems because of lack of access to affordable fruits and vegetables.  The local Key Food sells $2.3 million worth of fresh produce a year. 

“My constituency needs affordable fruits and vegetables in order to remain healthy and combat the obesity epidemic in the Bronx,” noted Assemblyman Diaz. 

But affordability is not on the list of concerns for Vornado, according to one shopper.  “It is terrible what they are doing,” said area shopper Dee Santiago. “They don’t care about people’s needs, [the landlord] just wants to make money.” 

Vornado Realty could not be reached for comment as of press time. 

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