Windsor Terrace has made its point loud and clear: We don’t want a Walgreens.
Walgreens district manager Hien Nguyen faced a punishing crowd 500 residents strong at Thursday night's community meeting, comprised mainly of locals troubled by the news that Key Food, located at 589 Prospect Avenue, .
“What you’re facing is that this neighborhood does not have any chain stores,” said Mary Most, one of dozens of attendees who stepped up to the microphone to question—and sometimes berate—Nguyen about Walgreens’ intention for the space. “We have successfully fought out other chains that have tried to come in. So that’s the feeling that you’re here with.”
One of the meeting's co-sponsors was Brooklyn Borough President and Windsor Terrace resident Marty Markowitz, who said he was no less blindsided by the loss of Key Food than his constituents.
While he doesn’t understand Walgreens' motivation for wanting to move into a neighborhood already replete with two independently-owned drugstores, he said chains do tend to be the only entities able to afford the sky-high rents that such large spaces can garner.
“Key Food had an opportunity. Other owners of Key Food were given the opportunity to bid on the store, but they didn’t come up to the money that Walgreens or banks pay for rent,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
He did, however, add that Key Food is currently in the process of looking to occupy another space in the area, and that if anyone is aware of an 8 to 9,000- foot location available for rent, to contact his office.
But many residents seized the opportunity to tell Nguyen that not only do they not want to settle for what will likely be a less-than-satisfactory grocery selection—they don’t want a Walgreens at all.
When midway through the meeting a rattled Nguyen revealed that “he was not 100 percent sure whether there’s a signed contract,” many residents vowed to do what they could to keep the pharmacy chain from moving in, period, and to press instead for another supermarket.
Councilman Brad Lander, D-Park Slope, another meeting co-sponsor, said that since the closing of Key Food would technically plunge Windsor Terrace into a food desert, the community may make an attractive candidate for the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s “Fresh” program, which provides financial incentives for supermarkets to open up shop in areas designated food deserts.
Lander said he was already in talks with the EDC to determine whether Windsor Terrace could be considered.
Other residents offered possible solutions. Some said ninety percent of Walgreens inventory should consist of fresh food. The idea was floated that Walgreens sublet some of the space to a dedicated supermarket, and some residents expressed interest in starting a Windsor Terrace food co-op.
Many were concerned for the 50 Key Food workers who will soon be out of a job, particularly since Walgreens plans only to hire 25 to 30 new workers for its forthcoming store.
Moreover, the Walgreens is not scheduled to open until March of 2013, though Nguyen said he plans to try to have it open by September or October.
But the main message to emerge from the meeting was one that Nguyen heard well. Asked to read through the many notes he plans to bring back to his superiors, there was one that Nguyen indicated stood out among all others.
“I also wrote down, several times, and circled it: Don’t need another drug store,” he said.
Resident Mark Horberg said he thought the meeting was productive.
“I think the point was made the Walgreens is not welcome here,” he said. “We don’t need a big box store and we don’t want one. It’s not right for our neighborhood. “
And if the Walgreens does open? “I will not shop there. Damn them to hell.”
Randi Abraham said it would be difficult for Walgreens to do business in the neighborhood if they’re not welcome.
“I mean, look, I know that they to have to do their business, too, and nothing against Walgreens personally, but it’s not what the neighborhood needs,” she said. "We need a supermarket with food.”
Leonora Stein, owner of the bookstore Babbo’s Books, said the next step for the community should be to find out for certain whether Walgreens has already signed the paperwork necessary to close the deal.
If it is, she said, she plans to boycott, and encourages everyone else to patronize other, local pharmacies for all their non-produce shopping as well.
She said she was heartened by the community's outpouring of support for keeping Windsor Terrace chain-free.
“This is obviously a select group of people that really care," she said. "But it was a large group of people, and I think that maybe a force could be built in the community to act.”
“I’m hoping we just stop them in their tracks. That would be ideal.”