Residents accuse a supermarket chain on the Lower East Side of increasing prices on customers who lack options
Before it closed, the Pathmark on Cherry Street was the most popular supermarket on the Lower East Side. The quality and prices were so good, residents say, that even people from outside the community would travel to the Lower East Side to shop there.
But then, in December 2012, Pathmark closed after Extell Development, in a deal with developer Gary Barnett, bought the lot on which it was built and demolished it last year. Extell plans to build a 68-story residential tower on the lot.
What's happened since, residents say, is an increase in prices at the other full-scale supermarket in the neighborhood, the Fine Fare at 545 Grand Street.
"It was immediate," said Daisy Echevarria, a resident of the area and a member of the Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side. "We realized (Fine Fare) was very expensive and a lot of the tenants began scouting around for better prices."
Turns out that's not such an easy undertaking. Grace Mak, another member of the tenants' group, said some of her neighbors now shop at the Food Bazaar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or the Chinese markets on East Broadway. Echevarria said she knows others who do their grocery shopping at Trader Joe's on Third Avenue and the Whole Foods in the Bowery.
"The impact on the community has been huge," said Echevarria. "For me, I have to go to so many different stores just to do my grocery shopping. I have to go to Trader Joe's because the cheeses are cheaper there but the produce is bad. So I have to go to Whole Foods or Eately for the produce, but then they don't have Puerto Rican products, so I have to go somewhere else. By the time I'm finished I've probably been to five stores, and that's a few hours out of my day. And you're limited, you can only buy so many things because you have to trek back."
Our Town Downtown looked into the residents' complaints, visiting the Fine Fare on Grand Street to compare prices with the Food Bazaar in Williamsburg and the New York Mart on East Broadway. Comparing prices to the now-defunct Pathmark is, obviously, impossible. But the complaint among residents is that the store closest to the old Pathmark is where prices have gone up most, compared to other grocery stores further away.
We found that a dozen eggs are 30 cents more expensive at Fine Fare than at Food Bazaar, and 70 cents more expensive than the New York Mart. Apples are anywhere from 20 cents to 60 cents more expensive than Food Bazaar. A four-pack of Breakstone butter is $1.50 more expensive. Bread is a dollar more expensive, as is cooking oil. Peanut butter is 20 cents more expensive.
Milk at the New York Mart on East Broadway is 50 cents cheaper than Fine Fare, but milk is 30 cents more expensive at Food Bazaar than at Fine Fare. A head of lettuce was $1.99 at Food Bazaar and $2.29 at Fine Fare. Chicken and ground beef were about the same price between Fine Fare and Food Bazaar.
New York Mart caters mainly to the Asian community and did not have a wide selection of universal staples.
The complaints among residents weren't limited to higher prices; they also said quality had become an issue at the Fine Fare on Grand Street, particularly when it came to its meat. Our Town Downtown didn't see any expired meat during our visit to the supermarket last week, though some of the meat appeared to be discolored.
"That's the only [supermarket] right now and they know that and are taking full advantage of that, it's disgusting," Mak said.
Our Town Downtown wasn't able to speak with a manager at Fine Fare despite repeated phone calls.
Residents are also concerned that when Extell finishes its residential project on the former Pathmark site, whatever business occupies the ground-floor retail space will cater to the building's well-heeled tenants and not the surrounding community.
"We've approached them before and have spoken to them about putting in an affordable supermarket, and they looked at us like we had two heads," said Mak of Extell.
Extell did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Mak and Echevarria said residents are concerned that even if a supermarket does go into the Extell building, it won't accept WIC or SNAP benefits.
"The tenants are very concerned," said Echevarria. "We all have to trek all over the city to buy our food and that's really not fair. This is a large community, there are lots of families and they're on low-incomes. Most of their money goes towards rent, so if the prices of food are high, it's really lowering the quality of life."
Comparing Food Prices
Residents on the Lower East Side complain that Fine Fare's prices have gone up since a Pathmark in the area closed. Below, a random sampling of prices from Fine Fare and other grocery stores nearby.
New York Mart
$ 1.99 / pound
$ 1.89 / pound
$ 2.19 / 5 oz. can
$ 2.39 / 5 oz. can
$ 2.49 / dozen
$ 2.19 / dozen
$ 1.79 / dozen
$ 6.99 / four sticks
$ 5.49 / four sticks
$ 5.99 / 48 oz. corn oil
$ 4.99 / 48 oz. corn oil
$ 4.19 / gallon
$ 4.49 / gallon
$ 3.99 / gallon
Red Delicious Apples
$ 1.59 / pound
99 cents / pound
$ 3.99 / loaf
$ 2.99 / loaf
89 cents / pound
$ 1.49 / pound
$ 1.29 / pound
Head of Lettuce
Instant Brown Rice
$ 6.19 / 28 oz
$ 5.99 / 28 oz.
$ 3.79 / 10 oz. can
$ 3.50/10 oz. can