Categorized | Bronx Life, Health, Southern Bronx

City subsidizes greens for Morrisania

Naleen O’Conner works at a shoe store on Third Avenue in Morrisania, but she doesn’t grocery shop in the area, even though it would be convenient with her hours. If necessary, she will buy milk or snack foods, but for fresh produce, she heads elsewhere.

“It’s sad to say, but you can’t find healthy stuff around here,” O’Conner explained. “When they do have vegetables, they keep that stuff on the shelves for too long. In upper-class areas, they’ve got more stuff and they’re more on point with keeping expired items off the shelves.”

The new Associated Supermarket in Morrisania will have at least 500 square feet of fresh produce.

The new Associated Supermarket in Morrisania will have at least 500 square feet of fresh produce. Photo: Catherine Pearson

In January, her choices may improve. The New York City Industrial Development Agency recently approved $449,000 in Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) incentives for a $1.1 million, 16,000-square foot Associated Supermarket on Third Avenue near 167th Street.

In adherence with the FRESH guidelines, the new store must designate at least 500 square feet of retail space for fresh produce, bringing more healthy food to a neighborhood that the Mayor’s Food Policy Task Force said has among the highest levels of diet-related diseases—including stroke, heart disease and diabetes—in New York City.

Kyle Sklerov, a spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, explained that the program makes it financially viable to open a store in low-income neighborhoods by providing benefits.

At the new Morrisania Associated, these benefits come in the form of an automatic zoning variance from the New York City Department of City Planning allowing for the construction of a 16,000-square-foot store in a zoning district where square footage would normally be restricted to 10,000 feet. It also includes a 25-year real estate tax abatement for the portion of the building designated for use as a supermarket.

There are three main parties involved in the new venture, which is slated to open in January 2011. The 3462 Third Avenue Food Corp. is the landlord of the 135,000-square foot building that will have income-restricted apartments and then the grocery store on the ground floor. Teofilo De Jesus, who operates six other grocery stores in the metro area, will oversee the store’s operation. Peter Farkas, an independent real estate professional, was also brought in as an advisor and to help broker the agreement.

Farkas explained that the FRESH program was essential to connect these people, none of whom had worked together before, and making them see this as an economically viable project.

“Operators are worried about these areas because they think, ‘People here aren’t accustomed to getting fresh produce, so will they buy it?’” Farkas said. “FRESH makes people think, ‘I can afford to be here. I want to be here and I think I can do business.’”

A questionnaire filled out by the 3462 Third Avenue Food Corp. as part of its FRESH application says the new store will comply with all Electronic Benefits Transfer and Women, Infants, Children program requirements. De Jesus has no plans to offer public health or nutritional education programs in the store, nor does he have any additional programs in place to make produce affordable to area shoppers.

Farkas stresses that because De Jesus runs other stores in the area, he understands the local economy and will price accordingly.

“As a free market economist, I would say that one of two things is true; the pricing will either be well-received and he will do business or it won’t and he won’t,” Farkas said. “I don’t think this guy thinks he’s going to make the same margin he would on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

Other health-related stores in the area have begun to thrive, too. Jocelyn Echexarria is the manager at the new My Wellness Solutions Corp. on Third Avenue and 157 Street, which opened four months ago. She said she has been surprised by the number of people in the neighborhood who have come in to learn more about getting healthy and eating better. But she said the lack of access to fresh produce in the area is an obstacle for them.

“One of our clients who lives around here has to go into Manhattan to get the food she needs for her program,” Echexarria said. “She just needs vegetables and healthy organic stuff. People need more options.”

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