Aug. 7, 2023 By John Schilling
Members of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OZPKRBA) stood outside of the neighborhood’s Dollar Tree at 137-20 Cross Bay Blvd. on Monday, Aug. 7 to warn locals of “a rat infestation” that ultimately forced the store to close after numerous complaints.
This past weekend, OZPKRBA President Sam Esposito, a lifelong Ozone Park resident, received complaints from residents who notified him of the store’s condition. Esposito arrived at the store on Sunday afternoon to check it out for himself only to find rat droppings underneath and on top of some of the store’s food products, as well as packaging that appeared to have been eaten through by the rodents.
“What we saw was appalling,” Esposito told reporters on Monday. “It’s all over the store.”
For Esposito, his immediate concern rooted from the store’s close proximity to local shelters that house families that rely on Dollar Tree for affordable food. Upon seeing the extent of the store’s rat problem for himself, Esposito confronted the store’s assistant manager before contacting Dollar Tree’s corporate office and the neighborhood’s elected representatives.
“[She] dismissed us, disrespected us, would not take this seriously and would not remove the food from the shelves,” Esposito said of his conversation with the store’s assistant manager. “Corporate from Dollar Tree came onto the scene [and] shut down this site down, as of eight o’clock this morning, indefinitely.”
Dollar Tree first opened its doors on Cross Bay Boulevard in 2018 shortly after the closure of Lady Jane Craft Center, which previously occupied the space for decades. Since opening, Esposito said the store has been an ongoing source of problems, including garbage buildup in the streets, not cleaning the sidewalk, leaving gates unsecured and prostitutes “doing business” in the store’s garage.
This, according to Esposito, has earned the store a poor reputation over the past few years.
“We have three Dollar Trees,” Esposito said. “This one is known as the worst, the sloppiest, the dirtiest and now, rat-infested.”
As Esposito addressed the crowd, employees of the Dollar Tree exited the store but refused to comment on the matter. The store’s manager, identified as Earl, refused to comment as well.
Throughout the press conference, countless people arrived to shop inside the store only to hear the news of the store’s indefinite closure by members of the OZPKRBA, as well as a handwritten sign posted on the door that read “SORRY WE ARE CLOSED TODAY!”
For some of the prospective customers, this news came as a surprise, but for others passing by, it wasn’t so shocking.
One person, who identified himself as “a former employee,” claimed to have seen rats inside the store before. Another passerby referred to the store as “disgusting” before declining to comment any further.
Shortly before the press conference started, a representative from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets arrived to inspect the store. After two hours, the representative exited the store, declining to comment on his findings.
While not present at the press conference, State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. later confirmed the Department of Agriculture and Markets informed him of “deplorable store conditions,” including rat droppings and bags of food torn open by rodents.
“I am pleased to announce that this Dollar Tree location has closed down, pending an investigation by the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets,” Addabbo released in a statement. “My constituents deserve a clean and safe store environment when doing their shopping and business owners are obligated to abide by government health codes and standards.”
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also confirmed being notified about the store’s condition.
“These conditions were shared with the Health Department very recently and we immediately launched an investigation,” NYC Health Press Secretary Patrick Gallahue told QNS. “We will take all necessary actions to protect the health of New Yorkers as a result of this investigation.”
Dollar Tree’s closure is not the first business in the area closed down due to a rodent problem.
Prima Pasta, a restaurant also located on Cross Bay Boulevard in nearby Howard Beach, closed earlier this summer after a June 13 visit from Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Citywide Rodent Mitigation Director Kathleen Corradi and other city representatives from the Health Department.
“The restaurant, on June 14, was shut down after receiving 10 violations,” Raymond Vann, the director of communications for Councilwoman Ariola, confirmed to QNS. “They need to cure those violations before re-opening.”
In his statement, Addabbo added that Dollar Tree will have to undergo similar changes before it can reopen.
“The agency requires a total cleaning and passing of a subsequent inspection,” Addabbo added. “I will keep the public posted on this situation.”
Despite the store’s closure, Esposito says the OZPKRBA will also continue to monitor the issue as well.
“We’re going to be here every day monitoring this situation once they reopen and we’re going to be checking the shelves and spot-checking everything,” Esposito said. “If we got to close them down again, we will close them down again. We will keep closing them until Dollar Tree gets the hint that this is not the neighborhood to disrespect us with a dirty store.”