Around 100 fed-up residents grilled representatives from a long-delayed supermarket at Myrtle Avenue and Ashland Place — demanding that the desperately needed store be affordable for all.
The locals — many from the Ingersoll and Whitman houses, and the Kingsview and University towers — repeatedly criticized execs from the Red Apple supermarket for leaving their slice of the neighborhood for five years.
"This block used to be full of stores and a vital part of this community, but the block went down, just like dominoes," said Cynthia Butts, a member of FUREE, a community group that helped organized Thursday night’s meeting at the Ingersoll Community Center.
The strong emotions during meeting were the result of John Castimatidis’ — the owner of the Gristedes chain of supermarkets — decision to bulldoze an Associated supermarket to pave the way for an apartment building. Castimatidis promised he would replace the old grocery store, but for the last five years locals have only become angrier as they walked all the way to the Atlantic Terminal or elsewhere for fresh food. The supermarket is slated to finally open this summer.
Many community members showed up to the meeting wearing stickers that read, “ Castimatidis: It’s time to respect our community,” or “ Red Apple Group: Give us back what you took from us.”
A representative from the supermarket, Vincent Tabone promised the audience affordable, high- quality food sold by employees from the neighborhood. "It's going to be a supermarket you all want to shop at," he told the crowd. "If we don't meet your needs, it's going to fail, and we don't want to fail you."
But many attendees remained skeptical.
“We’ve been lied to about a supermarket coming in,” a woman shouted from the audience. “He doesn’t care about us, he cares about the new residents moving into the neighborhood!”
The residents then divided into groups and delivered an assortment of wishes for the supermarket that will be below a CVS Pharmacy, including wide aisles, accommodations for wheelchairs, and elevators. Locals also pushed for a diverse selection of food that would cater to kosher and halal diets.
Ultimately, all decisions regarding how the supermarket will be stocked and operated are in the hands of the store’s management.
But there were signs that the contentious meeting had helped bridge the gap between the developer and the neighborhood.
"This is a very frusterated community right now, five years is a long time," said Dominic Bryant. "The plan seems good so far."
District Leader Lincoln Restler also saw a silver lining.
“The supermarket that’ s coming in, it’s not a perfect one,” Restler said. “I’m optimistic that the Red Apple Group is going to incorporate the really thoughtful recommendations that the community put forward tonight.
“I’m pleased that residents had an opportunity to direct their anger toward the Red Apple Group.”