The closing of a store in Brooklyn—even one that had been an established, though not universally-beloved, fixture in the neighborhood—does not seem like much of an event. In fact, stores come and go with alarming frequency these days, especially in the parts of Brooklyn that are changing rapidly in order to keep pace with the shifting social and economic demographics of a borough that continues to grow and develop in ways that would not have been anticipated not so long ago.
So why is the closure of a Key Food and the sale of the building to Walgreens important?
And why does the ongoing protest against Walgreens matter to the rest of Brooklyn?
Well, it matters because the same thing could happen in your neighborhood.
A store that provides a real service to the community could be sold to the highest bidder, which is usually going to be a branch of a large chain that could quickly take over and mean the death of the individuality of a neighborhood.
I mean, do we really want to become Manhattan, where block after block is anchored by two different banks with a Starbucks and a chain drug store thrown in for variety?
I would hope not.
The 80-year-old owner's sale of the Windsor Terrace Key Food to Walgreens caused an uproar in the quiet neighborhood on the southwest side of Prospect Park. Despite the fact that this particular Key Food had been derided for years by many of Windsor Terrace's residents as a disaster of a grocery store because it lacked quality produce and had an inadequate variety of the organic items that have become standard, people were still enraged that the store would pass into the hands of a big chain pharmacy. For years, residents had encouraged the management at Key Food to allow the inventory to evolve in tandem with the changing neighborhood demographics.
Although this was met with limited success, the fact remained that this Key Food was the only full service grocery store within a mile radius and was an essential part of a community that has many senior citizens who don't have either the physical or economic flexibility to travel farther for their groceries that younger members of the community do.
To say nothing of their Internet skills, thus negating Fresh Direct as a viable option.
I mean, many seniors still have AOL addresses.
Anyway, Windsor Terrace residents have banded together in pretty impressive numbers to protest and potentially boycott the arrival of the Walgreens. More than 2,000 signatures were collected in a pledge to boycott Walgreens, if necessary. There have been town hall meetings, rallies, press releases, and online petitions. A group, "Green Beans, Not Walgreens," has been organized to make sure that the cause will continue even as the initial furor has faded.
One of GBNW's main points is that there are already two local, non-chain pharmacies in the neighborhood, while there are no food stores nearby that are comparable to Key Food. This makes Windsor Terrace akin to something called a "food desert."
A food desert sounds like a terrible place to be.
Residents have tried to work with Walgreens and have asked them to consider selling fresh produce and other food items in the location. Although the Walgreens spokesperson said that this could potentially be done, he also spoke of a Walgreens in Bay Ridge as a reference point for what the Windsor Terrace branch could expect.
An enterprising Windsor Terrace-ite (does that sound too much like parasite? is it still better than Windsor Terrace-ist? yes, yes, it is) traveled to Bay Ridge and was dismayed at what he found.
DNA Info reports that "resident Paul Friedman was disappointed by what he found at the Bay Ridge store. He snapped a photo that was circulated on a neighborhood email list, and described the section as, 'Two shelves of fresh fruit, one only bananas at 49 cents each, the other apples, oranges, mangoes, and avocados. Prices tended to be high. They also had one section of organic chips. Lots of frozen and pre-made processed things.'"
So, the struggle continues.
Probably the only highlight of this situation is that the community has banded together to help those in need. City councilman Brad Lander has organized carpools to help out seniors and Fairway has started a twice-daily shuttle service that meets in the Key Food parking lot.
But these are only temporary solutions.
You might be asking yourself: Self, why did the owner of Key Food even sell to Walgreens in the first place?
(Don't fall over in your seats.)
Gothamist reported that borough president and Windsor Terrace resident Marty Markowitz spoke with the former owner of Key Food who said that "he just wanted to sell the establishment for the most money, and Walgreens was the highest bidder."
And there you have it.
The reason we all need to care about the Windy T's plight is that everyone should care about preserving their neighborhood's integrity, such as it is, from corporations like Walgreens. In this instance, Walgreens is clearly only thinking about expansion, not about whether they are needed to provide their services in a neighborhood.
It is highly possible, if not totally probable, that Walgreens can price items more competitively than the small neighborhood drug stores. If those store owners are then forced to sell, maybe Windsor Terrace will get some nifty new banks. Or something else corporate and large that can afford to pay the exorbitant Brooklyn commercial lease prices.
In the meantime, you have senior citizens who can't push their carts to the local grocery store anymore and car-less residents taking a twenty-minute bus ride to get their groceries and Fresh Direct trucks idling on every corner and Zipcar doing a bang-up business so that people can get out to Fairway.
And you have the empty Key Food building.
It closed officially on June 16th.
Walgreens doesn't plan to open until January.
It remains to be seen if the community organizers will still be in full effect at that point, but their persistence thus far is a hopeful sign that they won't settle for less than a viable option for fresh food in the neighborhood.
All together now: Green Beans, Not Walgreens!