The Key Food supermarket in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was about two short blocks from my apartment. That is where I did my regular weekly "shop" and most of my fill-in shopping. There is something special about a local supermarket. My wife is disabled and I usually brought her to the store with me. The employees all knew her and paused to say hello and ask how she was doing. Shopping there was kind of like going to the bar in the television show Cheers, it is nice to have a place where everybody knows your name. Sometimes Key Food was just a destination for our walks. On really hot days we just went to Key Food for the air conditioning.
Unfortunately for us, many other community residents, and for the approximately 50 people who worked there, our Key Food closed for good in the middle of June and will be replaced by a Walgreen pharmacy sometime in early 2013 after extensive renovations.
I have a car so I can make shopping adjustments. Other people are stuck. My 92-year-old mother in law who used to go to the Key Food on her own now has to depend on me to take her shopping. Many older people in the neighborhood are not so lucky.
The 50 friendly long-time former employees of Key Food will be particularly hard hit in this time of economic hardship and double-digit unemployment in New York City. It will be difficult for them to find new jobs that pay much more than minimum wage. According to a Walgreens representative, only 25-30 people will be hired to work at the pharmacy and they will be minimum wage, non-union jobs.
The Windsor Terrace Key Food, the only supermarket in the neighborhood, did not close because it was losing money. The owner was 80 years old and his family decided it was time to sell and they decided to go with the highest bidder, Walgreens. But what was good for them was not good for everyone else in the neighborhood and the community is now up in arms.
According to the Windsor Terrace-Kensington Patch, some residents are calling for a boycott of Walgreens, pointing out that Windsor Terrace hardly needs another pharmacy -- and especially not a chain. There are also paper and online petitions being circulated with support from the office of State Assembly member Jim Brennan. Meanwhile City Councilmember Brad Lander has organized a carpool for people who need rides to other supermarkets, but that is at best a short-term solution.
Ryan Lynch, a Windsor Terrace resident organized a campaign calling on people to personally email Walgreens CEO Gregory D. Wasson and demand that Walgreens either share the building with a full-service grocery store or drop its plans to open in Windsor Terrace altogether. The protest campaign is being given logistical support by the local Roman Catholic Holy Name of Jesus Church and the neighborhood Babbo's Books bookstore.
Approximately 200 local residents rallied in front of the closed Key Food demanding a supermarket, not a drugstore. Protest signs included "The American Dream Includes a Grocery Store," and "Support the Occupation of Walgreens, We Are the 99 Percent." Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who leaves a few blocks from the closed supermarket spoke at the rally. He said he was "outraged" that a drugstore was replacing the grocery store and that "the residents of Windsor Terrace have a right to decide where they shop and where they won't shop."
People can support the struggle to keep a supermarket in Windsor Terrace by signing their petition. Key Food is now closed, but the campaign continues.