July 15, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
The fight to stop a local supermarket from shutting during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have failed.
The owners of the Key Food store, located at 22-15 31st St., informed the state last week that they will shutter the store in October and lay off all of its 151 staff members. The grocery store has not been able to renew its lease.
The move follows urgent appeals from elected officials who said that the closure would make it tough for many residents to get food during the pandemic and disrupt the lives of workers. They urged the landlord to work with Key Food to extend the lease.
The lease comes to end Oct. 31 and the operators of the grocery store had been trying to negotiate an extension with their landlord–Jenel Real Estate. Negotiations between the two parties have been going on for more than two years.
Man-Dell Food Stores, which owns the Key Food franchise, says it has been left with no choice but to prepare to close the store. The company says that Jenel has not communicated with it since May.
“Basically we’re in limbo,” said Roseann Marabello-Rivera, the Chief Administrative Officer for Man-Dell, adding that they would stay if an agreement could be reached.
“We’d love to hear from them, we’re willing to work with them, we’d love to get a final answer whether it be good or bad, just so that we know where we’re going with this,” Marabello-Rivera said.
Last year, Jenel filed building plans to demolish the Key Food site in order to build a new commercial development that would house a Target store and other retailers.
Jenel, according to Marabello-Rivera, initially offered Man-Dell a space within the proposed development. However, she said, there were no follow-up discussions on the offer so an agreement was never struck.
Jenel, she said, then informed them in May that it had reached a deal with another supermarket.
The identity of the new supermarket operator remains unknown and it is unclear if such a deal has been finalized. The Queens Post reached out to Jenel but the company has yet to respond.
The date that Key Food will officially close is also uncertain. Jenel, according to Marabello-Rivera, had promised Man-Dell that it would not be forced to exit the space during the pandemic.
The closure would put an end to Key Food’s near 50-year run at the site.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos – who was part of a group of elected officials that urged Jenel to negotiate a new lease with Man-Dell back in May – said the move will have “dire implications” for the local community.
“Jenel Real Estate’s refusal to extend Key Food’s lease is an attack on our Astoria neighbors and their rights to provide community input, access fresh food and access union jobs that pay living wages, Ramos tweeted Tuesday.
Council Member Costa Constantinides, who was part of the group with Ramos, said that Key Food workers had risked their lives to keep the community fed during the pandemic.
“It’s disgusting that the only thanks their landlord wants to give them is a pink slip,” Constantinides tweeted Tuesday.
“Those workers and our community deserve better,” he said.