Is East Harlem becoming a food desert?

The closing of City Fresh Market, and what it means for the neighborhood

After sixteen years of serving local residents — for whom the grocery store was the only source of a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables within easy walking distance — the City Fresh Market at 116th and Lexington in East Harlem closed in late June of this year. When City Fresh Market’s lease expired this summer, the management of the building decided to turn the space over to a new tenant: Walgreens.

Reporters Jill Bosserman and Katarina Zimmer of Columbia Journalism School spoke to local business owner Jose Perez, who owns the incense shop directly across from the former City Fresh site, about how local residents feel about the loss of their market. Perez said City Fresh wasn’t just a place to buy food: It was a grocery store that cared about its customers. Perez said the owners knew everyone who shopped there, and would even let people pay for their food later if they couldn’t afford it now.

“Now we gotta walk miles to get to a supermarket,” Perez said. “Elderly people cannot take those trips every time they need a little something.”

In the following clip, Katarina interviews Perez inside his shop.

The East Harlem Grocery Scene, in 10 Photos

It’s a typical bodega setup inside NYC Green Valley Deli Grocery on E. 116th St. Dry goods abound, but besides the occasional over-ripened banana, fresh foods are scarce.
The more upscale grocery store La Marqueta offers a small selection of healthy foods.
A small but quality selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is available for sale at La Marqueta.
Unlike the grocery counter, the Hot Bread Kitchen at La Marqueta runs on a Pay What You Can system in an effort to provide food for the neighborhood.
A fresh lunch is available for sale outside La Lomita Del Barrio Grocery & Bakery.
A lone bowl of mangos graces the inside of a small bodega on E. 116th St.
A farmer’s market offers a better selection of fresh vegetables on 116th St.
The farmer’s market offers a fairly large selection of fresh foods.
El Pueblo Mexicano Grocery offers a decent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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