New Kid in Town: Grocery saga moves front and center

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Waldbaums is on the ropes. 

Will someone hand it a Coke, some Twinkies and a box of Oreos to put it out of its misery? 

The grocery store saga is now front and center in Great Neck.

Three days after my first column ran (July 16, “GN Deserves Better Grocery Stores”) about the lackluster food retail scene in Great Neck, the parent company of Waldbaum’s, Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) in Montvale, N.J., said it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with plans to sell more than 120 stores for $600 million and plans to close 25 others.

One of my neighbors left a note on my door saying she heard Great Neck’s Waldbaum’s will close in November. 

I contacted A&P to ask for more specifics and spokeswoman Joanne Fischetti wouldn’t say if the Great Neck location is closing. She directed me to the company statement that said, “While some stores will close in the near-term, the vast majority will continue providing customers with the same high-quality products and exceptional customer service.”

Since I don’t really see the “high quality products and exceptional customer service,” I still wish Waldbaum’s would re-invest in the store to 21st Century standards or close already and make room for another, better franchise in that central location. 

Meanwhile, we also saw the news in the Great Neck News that the Village of Great Neck Estates blocked the petition for Shop Delight to open an expanded supermarket location on Middle Neck Road.

I appreciated the letters to the editor that appeared, either supporting or challenging my views on local grocers. I also appreciated the comments, emails and social media interactions with people about grocers in Great Neck. 

From those comments, I make two observations. 

1.  People generally agreed that grocery stores in Great Neck aren’t, well, great. When they try to think of exceptional stores, they have to mention stores that are not in Great Neck. Therefore, my thesis holds.

2.  People suggested other stores that I should have mentioned or that I should visit. Thanks for these. For the sake of other newcomers in the area (and a reminder to long-time residents), here are the recommendations:

· North Shore Farms on Horace Harding Boulevard in Lake Success (Gerald Peretsman and two others recommended)

· Fairway in Douglaston (Recommended by Nina K. Gordon)

· Best Market in New Hyde Park (recommended by Norman Roland)

· King Kullen in Manhasset (recommended by online commenter)

· Pathmark in New Hyde Park (recommended by online commenter)

· HMart on Great Neck Road (Recommended by online commenter)

Some commenters disagreed with me. That’s fine. We don’t have to agree on all points for the general thesis to be true. 

Ms. Gordon said she didn’t share my affection for Trader Joe’s and wrote, “The last thing our town needs is another overpriced, trendy chain supermarket.” 

I don’t find it overpriced. Certain items are very reasonable at Trader Joes. Its presence keeps other grocery stores prices in check in my view.

Now that it appears some markets may be disappearing and Shop Delight isn’t getting a green light to proceed on a second location, we don’t need just a Trader Joe’s to fix our grocery woes. 

We need a diverse set of quality grocery stores in our community. Let’s hope our business leaders and political leaders respond wisely.

Mr. Peretsman took issue with me citing author Michael Pollan’s work. And I respectfully take issue with Peretsman’s questioning Pollan, a best-selling author and fantastic investigative reporter on the topic of food. 

Peretsman identifies himself (ethically on his part) as a Monsanto shareholder and writes “There is no way Long Island farmers can produce enough local foods to satisfy resident needs.”

In response, I never suggested that Long Island farmers could or should sell us all the food we eat. 

But, now that Peretsman brings it up, I will say that Long Island sprawl has cut into the available farmland over the decades in ways that seem imprudent. Even still, we do have some amazing food, wines and seafood production happening on Long Island. We should celebrate that and create markets for that production.

Peretsman also notes that organic and free-range foods are “substantially more expensive than their counterparts.” 

We all know that. To be clear, I’m not suggesting we eat only organic and free-range foods. But I advocate most of the same principles that Pollan does, a primary one being that we question the food industrial complex as it is in America and seek improvement. That means to question the commodification of food, a move that has made food less pricey but also more processed. 

“While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free,” Pollan writes in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. “For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.” 

Peretsman also writes there is no consensus that “gene modified and/or inorganic and/or ‘corporate raised’ foods are any less safe, any less nutritious or any less appetizing than organic, free-range foods.” However we see major league problems with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other problems in America that are related to poor diet.

Getting back to Pollan, he writes that our substandard food supply and food policy is connected to our growing health care problems. 

“Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared?” he asks In Defense of Food. “In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on heath care has climbed to 16 percent of national income. I have to think that by spending a little more on healthier food we could reduce the amount we have to spend on heath care.”

For example, consider America’s over-reliance on high fructose corn syrup, a sugar substitute. The corn industry lobby (such as the Corn Refiner’s Association) would like everyone to believe that this product, which dominates the American food supply, is a harmless replacement for sugar. Research does indicate high fructose corn syrup is more difficult for the body to digest and may contribute to obesity.

As a coda this week, I want to thank people for engaging on this topic. 

I’m enjoying the community dialogue. We are fortunate to have a quality local newspaper such as The Great Neck News to serve as such a forum.

As a newcomer, I realize I may bring a sometimes naïve view to local issues. But — having lived in many states, over a dozen cities and a few countries — I realize that we sometimes benefit from our first impressions and observations of a place before we settle into a status quo. 

So I press on as New Kid In Town.

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