Gentile, Chamber of Commerce demand new supermarket
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With less than a week to go before Thanksgiving, thousands of Bensonhurst shoppers are scrambling to find alternative places to buy the turkey and trimmings now that their local Waldbaum’s Supermarket has closed for good.
Caught in the fallout of a bankruptcy filing by its owner, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc., commonly known as A&P, the Waldbaum’s Supermarket at 8121 New Utrecht Ave. closed its doors on Nov. 19, leaving 70 employees without jobs.
Waldbaum’s had been operating at the site for 37 years, according to Councilmember Vincent Gentile. Bensonhurst residents interviewed by the Brooklyn Eagle said that even before Waldbaum’s opened, the site was a Pantry Pride Supermarket. “There’s been a supermarket here going back 50 years,” one resident said.
On Thursday, as the last of the shoppers entered the Waldbaum’s parking lot to grab the few items still left on the supermarket’s nearly bare shelves. Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and Councilmember Vincent Gentile led a rally on the sidewalk to demand that a full service supermarket open at the site.
“We need a supermarket — period,” Scissura said.
Bensonhurst, a diverse community thanks to growing numbers of Asian and Eastern European immigrants moving in, is also highly dense, and families need a local supermarket in which to shop, Scissura said.
“We have very little shopping resources,” said Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11 (Bensonhust-Bath Beach).
Residents at the rally said that it is imperative that the Waldbaum’s site remain a supermarket so that they can have a place to shop in their own backyard.
“We’re hoping it stays a supermarket. We need it not only for our seniors but for our disabled,” resident Marjorie Klimuk told the Eagle.
The situation surrounding the Waldbaum’s site is complicated, according to Scissura, who said the matter is tied up in bankruptcy court. The owners of Key Food Supermarket offered to buy the building from A&P but the deal cannot move forward as of yet.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the supermarket building and the adjacent parking lot have different owners.
The most likely scenario is that the building that housed Waldbaum’s will go to auction and be sold to the highest bidder, a business leader told the Eagle.
New York City Department of Finance records show that a lease was signed by the owners of Utrecht 18 LLC for the site at 8121 New Utrecht Ave. in May.
A&P, which owns 296 supermarkets across the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 in July, listing $2.3 billion in debts and $1.6 billion in assets, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“We have to get in touch with the Bankruptcy Court,” said Assemblymember Peter Abbate. He added that it is important that the community let the court know how vital it is for the Bensonhurst site to remain a supermarket.
Abbate (D-Bensonhurst-Dyker Heights-Sunset Park) said he also contacted the Food Alliance of New York state to see what could be done to get a new supermarket at the site.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said that the Bensonhurst community “has been left high and dry” by the closing of Waldbaums, and that he and other elected officials are working hard to get a supermarket to replace it.
“We are prepared to sit down and work this out,” Gentile added.
The Waldbaums will be missed, according to Gentile, who said the supermarket “sold affordable, nutritious food items.”
A Greenmarket that operates every Sunday in Milestone Park on 18th Avenue and 81st Street, across the street from the entrance to the Waldbaum’s parking lot, will close for the season after Nov. 22. Gentile said that the closure will leave residents with a scarcity of nearby places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
Assemblymember Bill Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) said that the demise of Waldbaums could hurt other area businesses. “When people go to a supermarket, they also do other business,” he said.