HARLEM — The only independent supermarket left in East Harlem could be closing.
City Fresh Market, which has been at 125 E. 116 St. for more than a decade, could close as soon as Aug. 1 as the property owner BLDG Management plans to develop into a residential building with a ground floor store it wants to lease to Walgreens, officials said.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, whose district includes East Harlem, and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is poised to become the the district’s next congressman, recently wrote a letter to Walgreens' CEO asking him to sublease the commercial property to City Fresh.
“East Harlem has long been considered a food desert,” Viverito said in the letter. “Taking away the only supermarket that serves the needs of this community is heinous, immoral and economically unsound.
“I strongly urge Walgreens to offer City Fresh Market a sublease so that it will continue serving the residents of East Harlem and offering them a place to shop.”
Espaillat said he is hoping to replicate the success Hudson Heights had this past June in a similar situation, where Walgreens agreed to sublease a space for an Associated Supermarket, as DNAinfo New York previously reported.
“These businesses are the backbone of our communities and provide residents with the basics they need like fresh and affordable food,” he said. “Walgreens worked with a local supermarket so they could remain open and I hope a similar agreement can be reached here."
Pedro Goico, an executive board member of the National Supermarket Association, has been working closely with the owners of the supermarket and spoke to DNAinfo on their behalf.
Since 1935, he said, a supermarket under various names and owners has been at that location. He also said the complete loss of an independent supermarket in the community would be a blow to the residents who rely on it.
“We don’t need a lot of pharmacies, there’s already too many,” he said. “We need healthy food.”
City Fresh Market has 10 stores in the city, five of which are in Harlem, he said.
The rent at the location has increased from $12,000 a month when it opened in 2005 to $45,000, he said.
He said City Fresh is willing to pay the increased rent, but the management company is not willing to work with the store.
He said sales at the location are strong and the owners have spent about $500,000 over the years remodeling and placing more organic produce in the store as the neighborhood changed.
“They don’t believe we can pay the rent,” he said. “But we have no issues (paying).”
A call to BLDG Management and an email to Walgreens seeking comment was not immediately returned Wednesday.