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Asian-American market opens on Roosevelt Avenue

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New York Mart, the eagerly awaited replacement for the Key Food supermarket on Roosevelt Avenue in downtown Flushing, officially opened Saturday morning to glowing reviews from most area residents and public officials.

The conversion of the site, at 142-41 Roosevelt Ave., from a standard American-style grocery into a Chinese American-owned market, was controversial when it was first announced because some area residents worried that it would not offer the standard foods and amenities they were accustomed to.

But those fears were allayed at the grand opening as many attendees discovered that the store offers a wide range of American and Hispanic foods and that nearly all of its signs are in English. Many of its staff members speak English as well as Chinese and some know Spanish.

“There weren’t more than five signs in the store that didn’t have an English translation. They have a good selection of American products and they also have a long line of Goya products, because there are a lot of Hispanics in the area. I was impressed,” said Don Capalbi, an aide to state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing). “There are a lot of non-Asians in that area, and there are going to be a lot of people complaining no matter what you do, but relative to what I’ve seen elsewhere, they’ve done a good job of pleasing everybody.”

But at least one longtime New York Mart critic, Mary Ann Boroz, said she was not satisfied by the market’s attempts to allay non-Asians’ concerns in a fax listing her criticisms.

After visiting the store, Boroz said too many of its products are Chinese, the deli is insufficient and many of the products’ packages do not have English translations. “Here was the perfect opportunity to close the gap between cultures and they have failed in my opinion,” she said.

Meng and City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) both attended the ribbon-cutting, accompanied by several dozen area shoppers who were eager to see what the new store had to offer after submitting a slew of suggestions in recent months to the store’s general manager, William Chen.

“Before we opened, when we took over Key Food, we go a lot of feedback from the community, asking us to put bilingual signs in Chinese and English to benefit the community more equally and to carry more products than the typical Asian market,” Chen said. “We have cereal, Oreo cookies and other types of American products in addition to traditional Chinese products, and like any supermarket we carry vegetables, fruit and fish, and those are things that are consumed by everyone.”

Any shopper who finds that an item they would like to purchase is not available can recommend additions to a manager in person or by dropping suggestions in a box soon to be installed near the front entrance to the store, Chen said.

New York Mart is a chain of seven grocery stores — the Flushing location is the fourth in Queens, and there is also one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Boston. The store had been fined $15,000 for a number of city Department of Buildings violations last year, but DOB records show only one violation has not been resolved, which Chen said the store is aware of and working to address. A stop-work order from August has also been lifted.

The outstanding violation, issued Nov. 9, carries a $25,000 fine, which Chen said was issued after high winds during last year’s tornado blew an awning off the roof of the store, damaging a nearby car. He said the fine should be covered by insurance, but he will be going to court to explain his predicament.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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