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Foodtown to close down in Woodside next month

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“I’m going...

By Dustin Brown

A Woodside Foodtown praised by local shoppers for good deals, friendly service and a wide selection will close its doors next month after losing its lease, alarming community leaders who fear the loss may cause hardships for senior citizens.

“I’m going to miss them, that’s for sure,” an 86-year-old shopper named Mary said as she pushed a red cart down the aisles Tuesday morning. “It’s a good store. The price is right and they’re honest about things.”

The supermarket at 50-15 Roosevelt Ave. will shut down when its lease expires Feb. 7, longtime store manager Bob Peterkins said in a phone interview Friday.

“We lost our lease. There was nothing we could do about it,” said Daniel Katz, who owns the store along with his brother and father.

The property is owned by the Bayside-based Grace Korean Presbyterian Church, which Katz said refused to negotiate a new deal that would have allowed the store to stay.

“They were just impossible to deal with,” Katz said. “We’ve tried for three years with them. They wouldn’t respond to us at all.”

A pastor who answered the phone at the Bayside church said he was unfamiliar with the property and could not comment on the situation. The church has no legal obligation to maintain the store or notify the community of its future plans for the site.

The store’s 30 workers were informed in the first week of January about the impending closure, which was announced to customers on a series of small fliers posted at cash registers.

“The employees were quite devastated, but then our corporate office assured everybody that they’re going to try to place them to the best of their ability,” said Peterkins, who has managed the store for seven years. “A lot of people are very disappointed. Most of my customer base enjoy shopping here because it’s a nice big store with a large variety.”

The store is liquidating its inventory, which Peterkins estimates is now only one-tenth its capacity. A few blocks of shelf space sit completely bare, while the remaining merchandise has been carefully pushed to the edge of each shelf — hiding empty space behind thin rows of cans and cartons.

At 22,000 square feet, Foodtown of Woodside is considered one of the largest supermarkets in a neighborhood that is also served by other chains like Key Food and Food Dynasty.

But many shoppers describe the Foodtown as a cut above its competitors, which occupy smaller storefronts and do not have a parking lot like the Foodtown.

“We’ve heard many complaints from people in the neighborhood because this community has a very limited amount of quality places to go shopping, and Foodtown was one of those places,” said Joseph Conley, the chairman of Community Board 2. “It was a good location, it was convenient.”

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) said he is reaching out to the parties involved in an effort to save the store.

“I’m particularly concerned about senior citizens. They should not have to walk long distances, nor should they have to traverse large hills in order to get food,” Gioia said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We have to stand united and hopefully these people will keep the best interests of the neighborhood in mind and not just their own bottom line.”

The church’s reasons for refusing to renegotiate a lease were unclear, although rumors about what might go in the supermarket’s place have been circulating madly through the neighborhood.

Conley said he was told by reliable third-party sources close to the church that the supermarket will be replaced with a mini-shopping center.

But no one has approached the community board with formal plans for the site, which has housed a supermarket for about two decades. The Katz family bought its current lease from A&P, the previous tenant, in 1996.

The Katzes will continue to operate Foodtown of Sunnyside at 41-25 Greenpoint Ave., where customers can continue to rack up rewards through the popular S&H Green Stamp program.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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