May 23, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
A group of Astoria lawmakers are trying to prevent a local supermarket from shutting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislators aim to stop the real estate company that owns 22-15 31st St. from kicking out Key Food when its lease comes to an end in October. The elected officials fear that dozens of jobs will be lost and it will be tougher for many residents to get food.
The officials penned a joint letter on May 20 that was sent to the real estate owners Jenel Real Estate and A&H Acquisitions calling on them to extend the supermarket’s lease for at least another year.
The letter–written by state Senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, and Council Member Costa Constantinides–urged the owners to negotiate a new lease and expressed their concern about job losses.
Last year, Jenel filed plans to demolish the Key Food site in order to build a new commercial development that would house a Target store and other retailers. However, the lawmakers said Jenel was putting profit before the needs of the community by ending Key Food’s 50 year run at the location.
“It’s shocking that you prefer to lose a stable commercial tenant for the sake of gambling that sometime in the future you may find other higher-paying retailers to occupy a newly built development,” the letter reads.
“With the economic uncertainty that’s upon us, this is extremely ambitious to say the least.”
“We have seen irresponsible real estate development thumb its collective nose at neighborhood institutions, all in the name of profit. Who benefits? Certainly, not the community.”
According to the lawmakers’ letter, both parties have failed to come to an agreement over the past year. It is unclear what will happen when the lease comes to an end.
Queens Post reached out to Jenel and a representative of the company did not comment. Man-Dell Food Stores, which owns the Key Food franchise, could not be reached.
The lawmakers said that the workers – who have been providing an essential service to the neighborhood during the pandemic – will be out on the street if the store is forced to close.
“They have put their life on the line so that we can have food on the table,” the letter reads.
The lawmakers warned that COVID-19 could come back stronger in the fall and force more Astoria residents to cook from home. They said the neighborhood could ill afford to lose a grocery store at this time.
The group said that Key Food – which paid employees hazard pay and provided them with personal protective equipment during the pandemic – is an example of how to lead during a crisis.
They called on Jenel to show similar leadership and to act in the best interests of the community.
“Astoria residents deserve access to quality food and jobs right now. We all have a role to play in guaranteeing that happens,” they wrote.
“We would ask you to at least offer Key Food a one-year lease extension to guarantee Astoria residents don’t go hungry as COVID-19 rages on.”