Whitestone seniors stage second protest against CVS

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Whitestone seniors took to the streets Friday for the second time in three months to protest CVS Pharmacy’s plans to move into a former grocery store site on Francis Lewis Boulevard.

The rally that drew about 30 men and women came after Councilman Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) attempts to bring in another supermarket for the space appeared to have hit a wall.

“We don’t need Band-Aids, we need food!” chanted the crowd, many of whom promised to boycott the CVS.

The controversy involved the former Key Food Supermarket on Francis Lewis Boulevard off 20th Road.

In July, the supermarket shut down due to slow business.

CVS then decided to open a store at the property, owned by the Muss Development Co.

Residents have objected to the closing of Key Food because it is the only supermarket in the immediate area. The two closest supermarkets are each located about a mile away, and many seniors said they do not have a car and would find it difficult to travel to the nearest supermarkets.

Enes Balsamo, the Whitestone resident who has organized both rallies, said the area is already overrun with seven drugstores.

“This CVS drugstore No. 8 is not needed,” Balsamo told the crowd.

CVS plans to use about 12,500 square feet of the 16,000-square-foot property, according to officials at Muss.

Avella has spoken with Muss and CVS about having a small supermarket open up.

The councilman said he asked CVS to give up an additional 5,000 square feet. With a dry cleaner going out of business next door and about 3,500 square feet not slated for use, a potential supermarket could use as much as 10,000 square feet under Avella’s plan.

But in order for CVS to fit in the smaller space, Avella has proposed that the drugstore not sell eggs, milk or frozen foods, which CVS has agreed to do. A supermarket with a larger variety of food products then might want to open up in the remaining space, Avella said.

“We need a little more space so we can have a supermarket,” the councilman said. “[CVS] doesn’t provide the core dairy, meat and vegetables we need to survive.”

But both CVS and Muss said they were not trying to make any deals on space with Avella.

Todd Andrews, a spokesman for CVS, said Avella was making unreasonable demands.

The CVS official said about 10,500 square feet of the property was usable retail space, making it the standard size of a CVS location.

Andrews said it was not possible for CVS to give up even more room.

“The previous occupant of that space went out of business because the space there can’t support a modern supermarket,” Andrews said. “What we are being asked here is to go down the same road.”

Stan Markowitz, senior vice president at Muss, said the company was in negotiations with non-food businesses for the remaining space. Although Markowitz would not disclose who those businesses are, Muss had said in the past that it was considering bringing in a small Blockbuster video store.

Many of those upset over the loss of Key Food live in the nearby Clearview Co-op. Half of the residents of Clearview’s 1,788 apartments are seniors, said Clearview’s manager, James Mursanico.

“It’s a hardship on them,” he said. “They don’t know what they are going to do.”

Mursanico said his co-operative provided bus service to the Whitestone Shopping Center off the Cross Island Parkway off 153rd Street for its residents twice a week.

Residents have also expressed concern that the CVS will become a 24-hour location. The Key Food parking lot, which is now closed at nights, was once a teenage hangout, and residents worried it would become a destination for youth again if it were open at night.

Balsamo said one of the workers helping to renovate the location had showed her an architectural plan with a 24-hour logo on the plan.

“If we are not going to get a 24-hour drugstore, then put our minds at rest,” Balsamo said. “We want something in writing.”

CVS has yet to make a definite decision on the store’s hours.

“It’s still a situation that is up in the air,” Andrews said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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