Follow-Up Friday: Where the Grocery Stores Aren't

Friday, May 09, 2008

Linda Gibbs, New York City's deputy mayor of health and human services, and José Serrano, New York State Senator (D, 28th district), talk about why so many supermarkets seem to be closing. Then, John Catsimatidis, the CEO of the Red Apple Group and Gristedes Foods, weighs in.


John Catsimatidis, Linda Gibbs and Jose Serrano

Comments [34]

judy from NYC

Gristedes is no higher priced than D'agostino or food emporium and all of the workers at all of those stores are surly and they are unionized so you can't fire them! Gotta love that level of job protection!

May. 09 2008 12:55 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

I’m all for food stamps for the poor and increasing fresh food resources for the poor. But subsidizing supermarkets in well off parts of Manhattan and the burros? Could someone please explain to me why the tax payers of not just NYC but also NY state should subsidize supermarkets in well off neighborhoods in Manhattan and the Burros just so well off people can get cheaper food? Subsidizing should be reserved for those that need it, not those that choose to live in overpriced neighborhoods.

May. 09 2008 12:47 PM
josh from brooklyn

just want to second the comments on market shopping
most neighborhoods in the city, particularly immigrant communities have a wide range of small markets for almost every food need
this needs to be fostered

May. 09 2008 12:09 PM
Stan Marcus from Upper Montclair, NJ

When I lived in Manhattan years ago when there were enough local supermarkets, Gristedes was an upscale chain in that their prices were considerably higher than the other supermarkets.The Gristedes stores were in upscale neighborhoods. Interviewing someone who was the CEO (can't recall name and and actual position) of Gristedes, as Mr. Lehrer did, on how to deal with the lack of supermarkets in the Bronx and other parts of the city was a bit of a joke to me. I doubt if the average family in any NYC borough could afford Gristedes's prices.

May. 09 2008 12:06 PM
jed from manhattan

Notwithstanding what Mr.John Catsimatidis has to say about nondiscrimination in this business, I notice that over the last 40 years (even when Gristedes was THE supermarket)there have never been any Gristedes Food stores in Harlem, East Harlem or the south Bronx--so if it's not discrimination, what is it. Brian, most of the time you ask the right questions, this time you just let that float on by.

May. 09 2008 12:01 PM
Helen from Manhattan

If Mr. C. doesn't think it's discrimination that's kept stores out of low income neighborhoods, but instead blames it on amorphous government regulation, why has the latter not kept the stores out of the upper east side (my neighborhood, where there are no shortage) ? No doubt this is a complex issue, but your guest couldn't have been more evasive, and Brian was disappointingly and uncharacteristically easy on him.

May. 09 2008 12:00 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

The other thing about the pharmacies is the incredible deals they offer to people who know how to play the system. I certainly don't have the patience for it, but my friend buys virtually all of her basic food from pharmacies at little or no cost to her in many cases. I would imagine they can afford to do this because of money they're making in some other department.

May. 09 2008 11:54 AM
Leo 2 from Queens, NY

Regarding your question on Duane Reade's and Walgreens on every corner there are 2 reasons:

(1) Have you gone to any of these stores to their prescription counter? - They distribute THOUSANDS of dollars in prescription medication an hour - ALmost 80% of New Yorkers are on several prescription medications at any one time - One reason we are falling behind other industrialized countries

(2) These superstores get preferential treatment from our government officials at the expense of mom and pop stores - They also suck out sales from grocery stores on the items where they can make a profit to cover the costs of the payoff to the miryad city agencies harrasing them (and not the national chains). For example, they corner the paper, detergent, over the counter drugs sales that were profitable items for the supermarkets and groceries. They cannot continue to operate when they are left to sell milk and vegatables where there is no profit

May. 09 2008 11:47 AM

"I don't think government regulation is ever the solution."

Geez. Isn't that why I can count 9 banks in a stretch of 3 blocks to begin with?

May. 09 2008 11:46 AM
Robert from NYC

Now that I finished making cookies, going back to the 10% increase in rent sounds low and the 2nd Ave Deli that was a block from where I live the landlord asked for an increase from below $10G rent to over $20G rent according to word of mouth and the Deli wouldn't pay. Now there is a Chase bank, I'd rather have pastrami myself.

May. 09 2008 11:46 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Could it be possible to offer tax breaks to property owners that have supermarkets with the expectation of lower rents for the market? It would probably be at risk of serious abuse if you don't have some way to classify what is or is not a market.

May. 09 2008 11:45 AM
joshua nadel from brooklyn

Your rent comment about 10% not being prohibitive is a bit out of touch with business models. in restaurants, (my line of work) for example, anything over 8% is putting oneself behind the 8 ball, while 5% is really where you want to be.
rent paralyzes much of business in nyc.

May. 09 2008 11:45 AM
Carlo Danese from Brooklyn NY

the other problem is the Duane Reade type stores often sell basic staples, like cereal, nuts, candy, beer, canned soup - and for a lot of people who don't eat well and/or are in a big hurry, you can live off these items, if you want to call that living

May. 09 2008 11:44 AM

What about market shopping? A large city tradition.

Fruit/Vegetable Market
Meat Market
Fish Monger

What about the revision of the supermarket model to a smaller sub-markets?

May. 09 2008 11:44 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

I had heard once that supermarkets have a very small profit margin, so this makes them fairly vulnerable to going under.

May. 09 2008 11:43 AM
Emily N. from harlem

Replacing stores with fruit and vegetable carts is a nice solution for right now because I imagine it could be implemented quickly. But street carts really are not the same as stores. Having physical infrastructure allows stores to be open after dark and even when it's raining or very cold. If street carts rely on sunlight, it doesn't make sense for them to be open much after dark, which comes early here, especially in the winter. Produce is perishable so street vendors take risks with mold in wet weather and freezing in very cold weather. Carts are not a long term solution.

May. 09 2008 11:42 AM

I'm pretty fortunate to have decent options in my neighborhood...we even have a "suburban sized" grocery store in which you can actually push a cart!

May. 09 2008 11:42 AM
Jake from Manhattan

Drugstores don't deal with perishables. What we need are more greenmarkets. I'd be curious to see how much fruit and veggies a supermarket throws away.

May. 09 2008 11:42 AM
Telegram Sam from Staten Island

Gristedes are unbelievably expensive, poorly managed, unpleasantly staffed, depressing places to shop, and every reason why traditional NYC supermarkets are dying. In the meantime, specialty markets are doing well, and on most staple products (non-gourmet items) are not any more expensive than Dagastinos, Food Emporiums, or Gristedes - usually cheaper. 30 years ago my dad used to call Gristedes "Greedies" because they were so expensive!

May. 09 2008 11:41 AM
judy from NYC

And markets being replaced by telephone stores. Don't forget telephone stores.

May. 09 2008 11:40 AM
tom from soho

I have a second home in Maine and in my town of only a few thousand there are three major markets and a super Walmart. What makes New York so hostile to efficiency? Politics?

May. 09 2008 11:39 AM

Does anyone get sad when they watch "Good Eats" and Alton Brown is in that produce section that seems to be the size of a football field?

May. 09 2008 11:39 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

I'm coming late to this segment, but it seems the problem in some neighborhoods, as I understand it to be, are the landlords. Landlords would rather not have the problem associated with having a grocery in a building like pest or required utility loads. Also, it seems like landlords want highly stable high rent, low impact tenants like banks and national chain drugstores with pre-packaged nonperishable foods over grocery stores.

May. 09 2008 11:39 AM
Carlo Danese from Brooklyn NY

I've always lived in neighborhoods where there were small produce, fish, bakery stores and all I needed from supermarkets was stuff like milk, canned items, paper towels etc - that sort of diversity needs to be encouraged.

What about education? Kids in school are battered by ads from 'Mickey D' - hardworking and often single parents get fast food because it's cheap and quick - Young parents need help and encouragement - For me, the best cheap and fast food is a can of black beans and some minute rice, add a little tabasco and you're happy !

May. 09 2008 11:38 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

I love how politicians come up with fantasy projects such as fresh fruits and vegetables green carts.
Are the green carts sanitary? What about all the car pollutants that will contaminate the fruits and vegetables on these carts?
Why not give the landlords that rent to super markets a tax break?
Also, the supermarket can be included in that tax break.

May. 09 2008 11:37 AM
markbnj from online: or

Having done (IT) work in over 150 supermarkets in the past year,

One huge problem is the SIZE (not of RETAIL area)
but the backroom/stockroom size.

The 60,000 foot store is not 60K of sales floor.

But a store that has 10,000 sq ft of space will not have more then 2,000 space (if that much) of storage space, thereby making costs more expensive

May. 09 2008 11:35 AM
leoinnyc from NYC

I am always amazed at how supermarkets trade variety for diversity. Even my local bodega will have ten different kinds of paper towel, or toilet paper, but no Tofu, for example. Three different brands of just kidney beans, but no fresh spinach. The big supermarkets are just the same!

May. 09 2008 11:34 AM
Christopher Deignan from Middle Village, Queens

Isn't there a planning permission process in the city that can restrict the number of pharmacy/stores and help ensure that there is a balance of amenities in any one neighborhood?

May. 09 2008 11:30 AM
Neill Rosenfeld from Bronx

A CUNY graduate student is doing something about bringing quality low-priced organic foods to the South Bronx. See the latest issue of CUNY Matters magazine at

May. 09 2008 11:30 AM
Ashley from NYC

@ Gary #3:

I completely agree. That is why I no longer go to my local Associated. Also, they refuse to bag my groceries if I bring my own bag. (They'll only do it with a plastic bag.)

May. 09 2008 11:28 AM
Catherine from freeport (long island)

Is there a danger that a green cart will exacerbate the problem by reducing what people buy in the grocery stores, thereby reducing the income at grocery stores? Isn't subsidizing a full-service grocery store is a better long-term solution?

May. 09 2008 11:28 AM
Katie from Forest Hills

I can't find a supermarket in Forest Hills. I just moved here two weeks ago and can't find one. Can anyone recommend one? I am interested in getting organic foods and gluten free.

Thanks for any suggestions.

May. 09 2008 11:20 AM
Gary from Manhattan

If Mr. Catsimatidis wants to know why supermarkets are disappearing, I suggest that he visit one of his own stores--anonymously (not as “the boss”)--and see how he is treated by the miserable Gristedes cashiers. When I first moved to New York before Whole Foods and FreshDirect were available, there was a Gristedes nearby at Eighth Avenue and 54th Street. In addition to overpriced, substandard food in cramped aisles, the cashiers couldn’t even bother to say hello to customers. A customer was often greeted with a grunt and glaring eyes and an indifferent hand holding a receipt with the phrase “NEXT!” (actually pronounced “neeeex”!, because pronouncing the “t” at the end of “next” was too much effort for them). I often wondered if the cashiers got a bonus check for being extra surly to customers. Mr. Catsimatidis, go see for yourself, and then visit Whole Foods and order from FreshDirect. You’ll then know why Gristedes’ days are numbered.

May. 09 2008 10:24 AM

For Mr. Catsimatidis -- in 20 years do you envision your business remaining the same or going through a dramatic change -- and if the latter, describe this change, including how it might effect NYC consumers.

May. 09 2008 09:56 AM

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