Monday, May 5, 2008

Losing our supermarkets

Even Kings and Queens are facing their own food crisis.

Kings and Queens Counties, that is.

A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

According to the food workers union, only 550 decently sized supermarkets — each occupying at least 10,000 square feet — remain in the city.

The Lost Supermarket: A Breed in Need of Replenishment


Anonymous said...

Let's analyze this the same way I analyzed the issue of the disappearing bowling alleys; again, based solely on what my two eyes are telling me, and nothing more scientific:

1) City supermarkets have been outmoded now for about fifteen years.

Compared to the vast food museums in the suburbs that not only have every obscure grocery known to man, but also a wide array of cooking equipment, books, seasonal merchandise (coolers, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc.) and other supplies, city supermarkets are small, stacked to the rafters with garbage that hasn't been touched in decades, and seem overcrowded by narrow aisles, bitchy customers, and inefficient staff.

2) Profit margin, consolidation, competition.

Supermarkets operate on razor thin profit margins, often one percent or less. They must be enormous, sell high volumes (meaning they have to buy high volumes to gain purchasing power at lower cost), and locate where land is cheap to store and display all that volume. So, two or three small supermarkets have to merge into one big one in a vast, cheap area, in order to keep their head above water.

And we all know that the price of land to build in New York City ain't getting cheaper. Supermarkets, like bowling alleys, are facing a "coffin corner" of higher rents/mortgages, inelastic prices for their wares, and tougher competition from ad-hoc food places like drug stores, gas stations, and the like that allow customers to bypass the inconvenience that has become many city supermarkets.

3) Poorer neighborhood supermarkets suffer from a high degree of pilferage.

There are several choices a supermarket owner has in this regard; none of which is good for the honest customer. They can make you declare an order through barcoded tags, which will be fulfilled by back-office staff; they can raise prices to the point that their losses are covered plus their small profit; or they can relocate to an area that is more business-friendly.

Of course, not ALL customers are dishonest, but if a certain critical percentage of loss occurs, there is no way a supermarket owner can carry that loss on the books in perpetuity. Why should they invest in anything more or better?

Supermarkets are for-profit institutions that have to answer first to their shareholders. The only other answer is government-owned supermarkets, and you know what that will mean to food quality, selection, service, and prices. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but these are businesses, not charities. If the venture is not profitable, there's no reason to continue it.

The Times article, to me, seemed slanted to make us all feel sorry for those who can't get to a decent supermarket (not just a place to buy food, mind you) as a matter of right. They seem to do this regularly with whatever cause they are celebrating that moment. They do a lot of hand-wringing, blamimg, and crying, but never offer any solutions.

So what's our solution? I'm all ears.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I don't find the supermarkets in Maspeth to be in the condition you described. The stop and shop is huge, clean and carries most goods you want and the pioneer is small, clean and convenient for those living west of the LIE.

Anonymous said...

I guess what the article is alluding to is that the Stop and Shops are located in good neighborhoods and are displacing smaller, serviceable, but outmoded and higher-priced neighborhood supermarkets in more marginal neighborhoods.

I'm not saying that there are NO good supermarkets in the city, but those that are around are generally in good neighborhoods or in warehouse districts where land is cheap and plentiful; out of the way of the average apartment dweller.

Yes, that Pioneer may be clean, but who does a more brisk business between the two? My money is on the Stop and Shop for the reasons I stated above.

Yummies said...

Larger issue:
Who the hell cooks at home anymore?

Too lazy or too busy, reinforced by long commutes and longer working hours.

And so...
More eateries, less groceries. Rise in obesity and heart disease.

who don't like pizza said...

To anonymous #1... let's not forget reason #4: the UFCW, which for decades have been in control of New York's supermarkets. Once Wal-Mart (and their smaller "Neighborhood Market" format) comes to New York City -- and it will despite the best efforts of the UFCW and the City Council -- that will only accelerate this process.

Anonymous said...

I had a Key Food just down the block. It was always full of customers. Then one day it closed. The reasons given were: the manager decided to retire; a Stop & Shop was being built nearby, but not walking distance for most people; and CVS was going to open in that spot.

CVS gobbles up these locations but does not serve the neighborhoods. Their selection of foods is spotty. You never know what will be in stock. This week, they are loaded up with pool-side merchandise-- just what we don't need. they could care less about local shoppers' needs.

Thank god, after 3 years in the desert we got a Trader Joe's! YAAAYYYY!!!!!! Somehow, TJ's can make money AND hold prices down. I love the crap outta that store. TJ's RULES!!!!!

Eric Arthur Blair said...

Yes, but at least we can be thankful that we don't have any Wal Marts in the city. We can thank our wonderful Democratic controlled city council from protecting us from saving money. Those high IQ NY Times reading white liberals on the city council really have the best interests of us poor ignorant rubes in mind, by keeping out Wal Mart and preventing us from buying quality products at low prices, and preventing non-union employers from gaining a foothold in the city!

Why I'd much rather pay inflated products for inferior produce and stale products at my local bodega around the corner. At least the owner is part of the fabric of our "vibrant diversity", rather than the bland corporate/suburban staleness of Wal Mart!