Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Urban Markets

Losing them in New York.

A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

According to the food workers union, only 550 decently sized supermarkets — each occupying at least 10,000 square feet — remain in the city.

In one corner of southeast Queens, four supermarkets have closed in the last two years. Over a similar period in East Harlem, six small supermarkets have closed, and two more are on the brink, local officials said. In some cases, the old storefronts have been converted to drug stores that stand to make money coming and going — first selling processed foods and sodas, then selling medicines for illnesses that could have been prevented by a better diet.

The supermarket closings — not confined to poor neighborhoods — result from rising rents and slim profit margins, among other causes. They have forced residents to take buses or cabs to the closest supermarkets in some areas. Those with cars can drive, but the price of gasoline is making some think twice about that option. In many places, residents said the lack of competition has led to rising prices in the remaining stores.

I imagine pretty much anyone who lives in a walkable urban neighborhood thinks that the presence of a decent sized supermarket within reasonable proximity is a make or break must have neighborhood amenity. So much so that I'd support city rent subsidies to encourage their presence.