Little Italy’s only supermarket is closing on Saturday, to the horror of residents who for the past 25 years have relied on it for their food shopping.
Met Foods, located at 251 Mulberry Street, has been a neighborhood fixture since 1991, when the area was known more for its organized crime and old school Italian cheese shops than its multimillion dollar penthouse apartments and upscale eateries. Though a “For Rent” sign has been in the window since October, local elected officials, residents, and supermarket employees weren’t told that December 31 would be the store’s last day, the news having only been posted to its front window this week.
“We’re talking about people who are probably going to have to get food at Duane Reade,” Paul Leonard, chief of staff for Councilmember Margaret Chin, told the Voice.
Under their current lease, the Met’s owners pay around $90,000 for the space, Leonard said, though the abrupt closing of the store indicates that the building’s owner, Abington Properties, is thirsting for more. Leonard surmises they’re looking for as much as $150,000 to open what it termed “a more upscale operation.”
“If you’re living on a fixed income it’s really, really tough right now,” 63-year-old K. Webster told us. “This is a $90,000 rental space even now, so even when you shop there you have to shop carefully.”
Webster, who goes by her first initial, says she has lived on the Bowery near Prince Street since the 1970s, and noted that the supermarket’s closing “has an effect that goes beyond the one store.”
“It’s all these things that end up tearing the community apart. It’s a surefire way of ensuring low income people cant survive here.”
While the new tenant will likely be retail, even THAT may be delayed for years while the property owners search for a suitably high-paying renter. As Christopher Havens, the vice president of commercial real estate at AptsAndLofts.com, told us last year:
“A lot of people are looking for big numbers now, because of what they’re hearing,’” Havens said, meaning that their asking price is often untenably high as a result. Seventh Avenue in Park Slope has had a noticeably high number of vacancies thanks to owners who have controlled their spaces for 30 or 40 years. “They have no mortgage on the buildings, they’re not in a rush. They don’t have any debt pressure to lease the space,” he said. High paying tenants, like banks and Chipotles and Rag and Bone stores are equipped with brokers that move “glacially”—as in, two or three years. Nobody seems to be in any hurry.”
Chin’s office held a rally today in attempt to persuade the Met’s owners to sit down with the property manager and broker an agreement that would keep the space open for at least a few more months. Wayne Rada, the executive director of the Little Italy Street Art Project, says that while any extra time bought is merely delaying the inevitable, it would at least give residents the chance to process the news.
“Would you rather know that you have heart issues so you have time to go to the doctor, take the medication, schedule the surgery, et cetera. Or would you rather they say, ‘Hey, your heart is going to blow up, and the next day you die’?” he asked.
Rada has been closely involved with the neighborhood for the last 17 years, and said it began trending upscale once realtors shrewdly altered the area’s name from Little Italy to NOLITA.
“Labels are apparently very important to our culture. But now people can’t get food, which is absolute nonsense,” he said.
He surmises that the Met’s owner opted to dump the news between Christmas and New Year’s in the hopes that it would slide beneath the radar.
“It really is kind of shady that the building owner chose this route,” he said. “It’s his building, he can do whatever he wants. But 25 years?
Calls to Abington Properties for comment have not been returned.