Greek-born supermarket mogul and top Hillary fund-raiser John Catsimatidis is making noises about an ’09 mayoral run — but it’s a weird way to start a nascent campaign by depriving the middle-income seniors of northeast Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village with their last nearby affordable grocery.
Longtime rent-stabilized tenants in the massive complex, already fearful that new owner Tishman Speyer is trying to squeeze them out, recently heard that the Gristedes market on First Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets could be among a handful of low-performing stores citywide that Catsimatidis may sell to a sure-fire cash cow like Duane Reade. That would be bad news for octogenarians like Soni Fink (say “Sunny”), a former Women’s Wear Daily writer (“I was the world’s authority on corsets,” she brags). A Peter Cooper resident on 20th Street near Avenue C since 1961, she’d have to schlep a quarter-mile to the nearest supermarket, and she’d not pleased. “I can’t run to Second Avenue and 23rd because I found out I’m out of vanilla,” she says.
Sure, there’s a Korean grocer near the imperiled Gristedes, but it’s pricey for regular shops, she points out, and most supermarkets only deliver for free if you do your shopping on-site. You can order online from FreshDirect and Food Emporium, but only one of her close-by neighbors has a computer, and folks must pool enough items to meet the $50 minimum for delivery.
City councilmember Dan Garodnick, whose district encompasses Stuy Town and Peter Cooper, where he grew up, says he’s gotten thousands of residents there to write Catsimatidis imploring that he spare the store. And earlier this week Catsimatidis promised us that he’ll do so if it boosts its “borderline” profits just 2 to 4 percent within the next 90 days. “I don’t have a desire to sell any stores,” he said (nor, we presume, to alienate future potential voters). “I’ve been in the business 37 years. I’m the last of the Mohicans.” In other words, when Fink and her friends stock up on staples over the next three months, they just may be saving this particular Gristedes life, much to their relief. “It’s not Whole Foods,” Fink sniffs wryly, “but it’s a good handy store.” —Tim Murphy