Residents rally against Target replacing Key Food
by Benjamin Fang
Sep 02, 2020 | 301 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Astoria Food Pantry co-founder Macaela Sears the plan for the new development “the plot of a dystopian novel.”
Astoria Food Pantry co-founder Macaela Sears the plan for the new development “the plot of a dystopian novel.”
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Maryam Shariat Mudrick of the Astoria Mutual Aid Network said the neighborhood doesn’t need another big box store.
Maryam Shariat Mudrick of the Astoria Mutual Aid Network said the neighborhood doesn’t need another big box store.
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A large crowd of residents and supermarket employees gathered to support efforts to save Key Food.
A large crowd of residents and supermarket employees gathered to support efforts to save Key Food.
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A young Astoria resident holds up a sign that reads “Stop Target” and “Save Key Food.”
A young Astoria resident holds up a sign that reads “Stop Target” and “Save Key Food.”
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A rally attendee holds up a sign calling for the preservation of Key Food’s 150 union jobs at its Astoria site.
A rally attendee holds up a sign calling for the preservation of Key Food’s 150 union jobs at its Astoria site.
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Astoria native Scott Karolidis goes to the Key Food at 22-15 31st Street every week to do his grocery shopping.

He knows the employees there and considers them part of his community. Karolidis also knows that by the end of October, the supermarket, which has been in Astoria for five decades, will close as its lease comes to an end.

The landlord, Jenel Real Estate, plans to build a new three-story commercial building, anchored by a Target, in its place.

Karolidis is part of a growing group of Astoria residents, leaders and elected representatives fighting to keep Target away, save Key Food and preserve its 150 union jobs. Last Thursday, he helped organize a large rally outside of the supermarket calling on Target to back out of the new development.

“They see how unwelcome they are here in Astoria,” Karolidis said. “They will realize this is not worth the price they’re paying.”

Despite multiple rallies, letters and public events over the past year, the landlord has not changed plans to erect a new building and effectively displace Key Food. Karolidis, who has monitored the lack of progress to sway the landlord to reconsider, said he wanted to try to tackle the issue from a different angle: going after Target.

“I believe that Target can be moved with public pressure in a way that the landlord could not,” he said. “I think Target cares more about their public image than Jenel Management.

“It’s easy to rally against a landlord, but a landlord is this invisible, vague figure,” Karolidis added. “Target is something that every single person on the streets knows. It makes an easy villain.”

Macaela Sears, a Ditmars resident, started a food pantry out of the back of her car at the start of the pandemic in March. Although the effort began with donations from a few friends, the food pantry now operates out of a space on Steinway Street with lines that span blocks.

Sears said hungry families start lining up as early as 10 p.m. the night before it opens.

“Our neighbors are spending all night out on the sidewalk because they’re afraid they won’t have enough food for their families,” she said.

Despite that level of desperation and hunger in the community, Sears said Target is still “bulldozing” its way into Astoria and forcing out a local supermarket with unionized jobs.

“This is the plot of a dystopian novel, a massive corporation applauding essential workers but ripping their jobs away in the same breath,” she said. “They are adding another 150 people to the unemployment statistic in the middle of a global pandemic.

“If Target claims to have the exact same values that we do,” Sears added, “they will earn their place in this community by saving this Key Food and the jobs of 150 people in the neighborhood.”

Another Astoria resident, Maryam Shariat Mudrick, created a mutual aid network during the pandemic, and has engaged more than 2,000 members of the community. Mudrick said access to food is a “significant challenge,” making up over 60 percent of their daily requests.

The Astoria Mutual Aid Network co-founder said when volunteers do their shopping to help neighbors, they go to stores like the Key Food on 31st Street, underscoring its importance to the community.

“We do not need yet another example of developers and landlords putting profits before people,” she said. “We do not need yet another big box store that says they’re a good neighbor, but comes in and shuts out real neighbors and local business owners.”

At the rally, State Senator Jessica Ramos spoke about the limited grocery store options that residents in northern Astoria have. With Key Food slated to close and the Best Market shut down as it converts into a Lidl, one of the few options left is Cherry Valley on 21st Avenue.

Ramos, chair of the State Senate’s Committee on Labor, also said that losing 150 union jobs will hurt not just those families, but the whole neighborhood.

“If we know anything about economics, it’s that union members are the economic anchors of our communities,” she said.

State Senator Michael Gianaris noted that the Key Food stayed open and stocked throughout the pandemic, providing a vital resource to residents and keeping workers employed during the height of the crisis.

“They are a good neighborhood institution,” he said. “People need this store.”

Zohran Mamdani, who will soon become the Assembly representative for Astoria, called on residents and local activists to keep the pressure on Target.

“These companies can outlast us if we’re just here for 24 hours, if we’re only tweeting for a couple of days,” he said. “What we need to do is make it clear that this declaration is one that will last.”

On the same day, Astoria’s elected officials penned a letter to Target demanding that they “cease actions” that will force out Key Food and its union jobs. They also demanded that Key Food be allowed to stay with rent and lease terms that are reasonable.

Karolidis noted that this recent rally had the largest turnout of all of the demonstrations, and also had the most “anti-Target bend.”

He said in the next few weeks, there will be more actions, including marches, calls, emails and a social media campaign focusing on Target executives. Karolidis said they also have the support of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which will bring additional attention to the issue.

“I just can’t stomach sitting by and doing nothing,” he said. “Even if we totally fail, at least we are working, sending messages and moving the ball. We cannot keep losing union jobs to big corporations.”

A Target spokesperson in a statement said the company has been serving neighborhoods throughout New York for more than 20 years. The company’s philosophy, the spokesperson said, is to take care of guests, take care of its team and be “great neighbors” in the communities they serve.

That includes working with local organizations like the Queens Chamber of Commerce and civic leaders to understand local needs.

“As we look to open new stores in Jackson Heights and Astoria, we continue to invest time in learning how to best serve each community,” the spokesperson said, “not just to make sure we have the right products on the shelves, but to determine how we can work together to support the things they care about most.”
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