HARLEM — A fight to save an East Harlem supermarket has been joined by thousands of its neighbors.
City Fresh Supermarket at 125 E. 116th St., near Lexington Avenue, shuttered this past August when its lease expired. Its landlord is planning to develop the site into a residential building with a ground-level commercial storefront.
The market was denied a chance to lease the storefront, which was instead given to Walgreens which plans to open a Duane Reade there, DNAinfo New York previously reported.
But City Fresh's owner, Anthony Espinal, along with representatives from The National Supermarket Association of which the store is a member, collected roughly 1,200 signatures from locals urging the drug store chain to sublease the storefront to the supermarket.
This past July, dozens of community members and local politicians — including state Sen. Adriano Espaillat and city Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — rallied outside the store, saying the supermarket provides much-needed fresh produce to locals.
At the rally, Espaillat called the area the “Sahara Desert of food options in New York City.”
But the the drug-store chain, he said, has not budged on the proposal and if they do not provide a sublease the store could be gone from that location for good.
“This is a fellow with a track record in the community and I don’t know why he wasn’t giving a chance to stay at that location,” said Nelson Eusebio, the association’s executive director, of the owner.
Espinal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pedro Goico, an executive board member of the supermarket association, previously told DNAinfo that City Fresh Market operates 10 stores in the city, five of which are in Harlem.
The rent at the East Harlem location has increased from $12,000 a month when it opened in 2005 to $45,000, he said, which the owner could have paid but was still booted from the space.
Despite success that residents and local politicians had in Hudson Heights last year in a similar scenario, where Walgreens agreed to sublease a storefront to an Associated Supermarket, Eusebio said Walgreens has not indicated they will do the same in East Harlem.
“They haven’t responded to any of our phone calls,” Eusebio said. “They’re not budging.”
Walgreens did not respond to a request for comment.