Vanishing grocery stores

November 17, 2008 10:02:44 PM PST
Being able to conveniently buy fresh fruits and vegetables is something most of us take for granted.

But for a growing number of New Yorkers, it's becoming increasingly difficult because neighborhood supermarkets are disappearing.

"This is happening all over the city," said Enrique Vega. The South Bronx community activist is among those fighting to keep the Key Foods at Bruckner Boulevard and White Plains Road from closing when its lease expires at the end of the year.

"It's about the dollar. Forget about the people in these communities. We have lived in these communities. We have built these communities, and most of the people that own this real estate, don't live in our communty. We're saying think about us," said Mary McKinney. In fact, more and more residents of New York City's poorest communities are being forced to buy their food at neighborhood bodegas, few of which carry nutritious fresh produce.

And that, says the Bloomberg administration, points to a looming health crisis.

"Those areas of the city that had the highest incidents of obesity and diabetes also had a lack of neighborhood grocery stores," said planning commissioner Amanda Burden.

In an effort to make fresh produce and supermarkets more accessible to more New Yorkers, the city has come up with a multi-pronged initiative that includes: zoning incentives for new buildings; financial and tax incentives to grocery store developers; and using city-owned land for new supermarkets.

"These three initiatives grouped together we think will begin to solve the problem," Burden said.

When community protests failed to stop the closing of a former Pioneer Supermarket in East Harlem earlier this year, 68-year-old Emma Jackson helped lead a coalition that successfully lobbied for a brand new grocery store, which is opening this month just four blocks away.

Jackson says her own heart condition and asthma, underlining what's at stake for neighborhoods like where she lives.

"If we're going to teach people how to eat better, we have to have a resource," Jackson said.

According to the planning commission, the most underserved areas of New York City are:

1) Central Brooklyn
2) Northern Manhattan
3) South Bronx
4) North Bronx
5) Jamaica, Queens
6) The Rockaways, Queens

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