WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Hundreds of locals are rallying to save a longtime Associated Supermarket that was supposed to close at the end of the year, as the grocery store's owner heads to court to fight an eviction set to clear the way for a Walgreens at the site.
Community Board 12 launched a series of petitions on Wednesday in support of the supermarket at 592 Fort Washington Ave., whose franchise owner said he was told three years ago that the store's lease would not be renewed when it expired on December 31, 2015.
The board had already collected nearly 1,000 signatures from residents opposing the closure as of Thursday afternoon, said Maurice Owen-Michaane, chairman of CB12's Business Development Committee.
The petition, which is available at the supermarket or can be requested by contacting Board 12, does not include a separate online version that had received 315 signatures as of Friday morning.
"This supermarket, located on a hilltop, is vital to the community it serves," one petitioner wrote on the online page, adding that all the workers there would lose their jobs. The supermarket currently employees 27 people, the owner said.
"It's the best damn supermarket in the area!" another petitioner wrote.
The owner of the grocery store — which has been an Associated for nearly 20 years but has operated as a supermarket at the address for more than three decades — is set to appear in court on Monday to face charges he "failed to vacate possession of the premises" at the end of the year, court documents show.
The building's management company, Benenson Capital Partners LLC, filed the eviction proceedings against Associated, whose franchise owner Oswald Rodriguez "has held over without [management's] permission," records show.
Rodriguez said he was informed three years ago that the store's lease would not be renewed for 2016 and that he wasn't given the opportunity to make a counter offer. He said he learned last month, when he contacted the management office again to try to negotiate a new lease, that Walgreens was slated to move in.
Zulema Wiscovitch, chief administrative officer of Associated Food Stores, said her company has been providing Rodriguez with business and legal support through the lease process.
“We give Ozzie advice, and call him to make sure he gets what he needs.” she said.
Rodriguez's lawyer, Sabbir Ahmed, said he "is trying to find loopholes and get a dismissal” of the case, "or do anything I can to make sure everyone is happy.”
Signatures and comments from the petitions will be brought to the courthouse on Monday, said Owen-Michaane, who's urging residents to attend the hearing at 111 Centre St.
“We need to get as much community support as possible," he said.
Shari S. Laskowitz, an attorney for Benenson Capital Partners, LLC, declined to comment.
A Walgreens spokesman could not confirm the drugstore chain has signed a lease for the space.