By Ashley Newell
Food shopping for a family isn’t cheap. Just ask Frank Lara, an East Harlem Pathmark shopper. “I travel all the way from the west side of Harlem to this Pathmark, because the prices are cheaper,” says Lara, 41, a father of three who works as a train conductor for the MTA. “There’s Bravo, Associated, Fine Fare food markets, but their prices do not compare, I get better deals at Pathmark.”
Like Lara, many residents in the Harlem community rely on Pathmark for convenience, and more affordability than any other supermarket chain in their neighborhood. Within the vicinity of where Pathmark currently stands there are only two other small supermarkets — City Fresh and Fine Fare are the only other supermarkets that cater to the thousands of residents in the zone.
In late July, A&P grocery chain which is parent company to Pathmark, Food Emporium, Waldbaums, and Super Fresh filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has lined up buyers for 120 of its 296 stores with total expected proceeds of about $600 million.
A majority of the stores are being purchased in the Tri-State area, but Pathmark in East Harlem is currently waiting for a buyer. “Someone can buy it; there are still nine years left on the lease,” says Michael Lupo, general store manager of the Pathmark in East Harlem. “We can’t really say too much, but if there is no buyer by December, there will be no more Pathmark, and that’s all we know.”
Pathmark in East Harlem opened its doors to the community in April of 1999. Abyssinian Development Corporation fought to bring the supermarket chain to 125th street to inspire new commercial development along the strip. According to an article in the New York Times, when Pathmark initially arrived in East Harlem, the profits of small grocery stores in the area profits declined by half, forcing them to shut down because they could not compete.
Fast forward 15 years. The East Harlem Abyssinian Triangle, which is a partnership between Abyssinian Development Corp. and the Community Association of East Harlem Triangle, sold the property for $39 million to Extell Development one of New York City’s most active real estate developers.
“It was going to close regardless,” says John Dubois, a ten-year Pathmark employee.
“It’s sad; now where are the seniors going to shop?” he added. “It’s already no jobs for the youth,” he added. “That’s why they’re out here acting crazy.”
Despite many attempts by residents and community board leaders to convince board members on the East Harlem Abyssinian Triangle not to sell the building to Extell, protest went on deaf ears. Residents fear Extell will make the property market rate condominiums with no affordable units.
“Its upsetting,” adds Chantal Brock, resident of the AK houses, located three blocks away from Pathmark. “If they close this Pathmark, that means I’m going to have to shop somewhere else with higher prices. Even though the store is falling apart, and the area is bad, you still can’t get any better bargain than Pathmark offers in the Harlem area.”
Residents complain that the area surrounding Pathmark has had an increase in drug abuse and violence. The area is home to two major methadone clinics. Residents of Randall’s Island, which accommodates two ‘mens’ shelters and a substance treatment center take the M35 bus to 125th street and Lexington. “The area needs to be more structured; you shouldn’t be able to see people on the street getting high,” Brock stated. “They need their own designated area.”
The future remains uncertain. “I just have to keep going; nothing is going to stop me, I’ll be working here until they turn the lights off,” says Dubois . “I know people who have been working here longer then me, and will probably walk away with nothing; they don’t care about us.”