As shoppers picked through produce outside the Upper West Side’s iconic Fairway Market Monday afternoon, they did so with the knowledge that their neighborhood grocer could soon shutter.
The market, as the New York Post reported over the weekend, is on the brink of bankruptcy. The chain is seeking bankruptcy protection after failing to find a buyer for its 14 stores, including its flagship store on Broadway and 74th Street. Competitors, including ShopRite, have shown interest in purchasing the property, according to the Post.
“You shouldn’t sell a business to a company that runs stocks,” said one shopper named Joan, who declined to give her last name. She was referring to what may have been Fairway’s original sin in 2007 when the Glickberg family, who had owned and operated the chain since it opened as a produce stand in 1933, sold their stake to a private equity firm.
Since then, the company has seen losses as it has expanded outside on New York City and out to Connecticut and New Jersey. In 2016, it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and was eventually brought out of it by another investment firm.
“We shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Joan, who like several others said that she shops at the market on the UWS just about every day. “We depend on it.”
Bertha Sehgal said she’s been shopping at Fairway since 1975 — when she remembers watermelon only cost 7 cents and a whole head of cauliflower would set you back 69 cents — and doesn’t know what she would do without it.
“Sometimes people get greedy and try to expand,” said Sehgal. “They tried to open too many stores.”
Sehgal said she’s started to buy from Costco, but will only get her produce from Fairway.
“If you buy any vegetable or fruit from here, and put it in your fridge, it will be fresh for two weeks,” Sehgal said.
Sehgal admitted that she only cares about the landmark store on 74th Street because of its history and her own sentimental attachment. She said it should remain open even if the others close.
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Lorraine Ruggieri, another shopper and UWS resident for nearly 40 years, agreed that the market was a neighborhood establishment that would be a devastating loss.
“It was bad enough when H&H Bagels and Nick’s Burger and Pizza closed,” said Ruggieri. “We never would have thought that Fairway would close.”
She said the market is a part of a lot of people’s daily routines, particularly retirees.
“They like to come here every day and walk around, see what’s cooking, see what’s good for dinner and get what they want,” she said.
Recently, Ruggieri noted, it seemed like things had been looking up for the landmark store. This past summer the grocer launched a cooking school upstairs next to its café, which offers more than 100 courses.
“I thought that was a good sign,” said Ruggieri, waving around a sweet potato she’d just picked up.
The future of the grocer is still uncertain, but it’s precarious enough to make Ruggieri and other longtime shoppers fall into mourning.
“What will we do without Fairway?” Ruggieri asked.
“Sometimes people get greedy and try to expand. They tried to open too many stores.” Fairway shopper Bertha Sehgal