There has been a new development in the struggle between Windsor Terrace residents and the much-reviled Walgreens that is due to open someday. We guess. Probably not for many more months. But, hunker down, because it's coming! The Brooklyn Paper reports that Walgreens has announced that the store will "dedicate a 'significant' amount of space to fresh produce and meat — a promise that could involve sharing the building with a grocer, company officials say."
"Significant," you say? Well, that sounds vague! And, therefore, not really all that encouraging.
Walgreens' spokesperson Robert Elfinger said, “All options are on the table.” Which, ok, that could be promising. After all, "all options" is an awful lot of options! But, still, this is very vague. And vague isn't promising. Elfinger also claims that there are also "plans for the pharmacy [to] include a dairy and deli meat selection — but...no specifics about how much square footage the shop will dedicate to fresh food." So, yeah. Still vague!
What does that even mean, really? Does that mean there will be a full aisle of an assortment of dairy products, ranging from different kinds of milk and yogurts to eggs and a variety of butter? Will there be Lurpak? We love Lurpak! European butter is all kinds of good.
Or does this mean that there will be one lonely refrigerator case with a few milk containers and a couple of packages of salami?
It could mean that too! Because Walgreens isn't giving any specifics or doing anything other than making ambiguous promises about fresh food.
And the Windsor Terrace residents who have spent months organizing and protesting in an effort to guarantee that the neighborhood does not become a food desert aren't buying this line of unclear rhetoric either. Residents claim that they have received "'only stock answers' to letters they sent Walgreens officials." One Windsor Terrace resident, Ryan Lynch, said, "We’re looking for something that’s reflective of a full-service grocery store … not a glorified 7-Eleven. It would be more hopeful if [Walgreens] was working with the community.”
The fear of a 7-Eleven type solution to the problem of providing fresh food to the neighborhood is a real one, especially based on past promises Walgreens made and then failed to deliver on. When Windsor Terrace residents first voiced their worries that Walgreens could not or would not provide fresh food in their store, the company pointed to a branch in Bay Ridge as an example of how community involvement brought about changes in the store. But the results were far from satisfactory.
The Brooklyn Paper recalls that "In 2008, Bay Ridge residents demanded fresh food at a Walgreens that was replacing a Key Food in a now-stale food fight that could shed some light on the current Windsor Terrace battle. After protests from shoppers, Walgreens agreed to offer fresh produce and meat at the store — but residents now say it never emerged as a true alternative to the grocery store it replaced."
In fact, Bay Ridge resident Denise Loli, "who four years ago signed a petition along with 1,000 other protestors demanding fresh food at the Third Avenue site — says she won’t buy produce at the Bay Ridge Walgreens, which she claims resembles a Rite Aide with just a few vegetables in stock.
"'It’s a place you go to buy milk and eggs,” she said. “But it’s certainly nothing you can rely on as a grocery store.'”
Okay, then! Luckily, Windsor Terrace residents have not accepted the dubious promises that Walgreens is making and plan to continue their fight to ensure that the neighborhood gets the services that it needs, vowing to boycott the store if necessary. And, frankly, it seems that it will be necessary. The store isn't scheduled to open until this winter, but there are no positive indicators that the Walgreens will be able to suit the neighborhood's needs.
While it remains to be seen if a boycott will prove effective, there is nothing lost by fighting for services. We live in a time when people are constantly being told what their consumer needs are, whether it's by corporations or the city government. I am of the opinion that people should be trusted to make their own decisions on whether or not to buy a big soda or breastfeed their babies without all the noise of Mayor Bloomberg and Pepsico and Similac and everyone else shouting in our ears about what we should be doing. I'm kind of crazy like that though!
I get that we live in a free-market society, I do. I understand why Walgreens had every right to buy the Key Food that was up for sale and I understand that Walgreens is under no obligation to operate in any other way than their ordinary business model. But I'm also hopeful that the same Windsor Terrace residents who have been so persistent in organizing protests and groups like "Green Beans, Not Walgreens" will continue to stick together and make sure that this community and its neediest residents won't settle for anything less than what they deserve.
Which, by the way, is not a pile of over-priced bananas pathetically offered as some sort of gesture toward "fresh produce."
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen