In response to the uproar over the sale of the New Utrecht Avenue Waldbaums — one of our area’s largest full-service supermarkets — to the Flushing-based Jmart, local elected officials have opened a dialogue with the building’s new owners.
Councilman Mark Treyger and Community Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia met with Jmart representatives last week to talk about ways the Asian supermarket could meet the grocery needs of Bensonhurst’s diverse communities. Councilman Peter Koo — who represents Flushing, Queens — helped facilitate the meeting.
Treyger told us that Jmart owners are very receptive to idea of carrying a selection of Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic food products in addition to the store’s typical stock of foods from across the Asian continent.
“They are committed to offering an array of foods reflective of the diversity of the neighborhood, from bok choy to San Marzano tomatoes, to fresh produce, to matzah, to brisket, to deli counters with fresh cold cuts, and cheeses,” said Treyger.
As we’ve reported, the 37-year-old Waldbaum closed down in November of last year as part of its parent company A&P’s bankruptcy filing and was eventually auctioned off to the Queens-based Jmart. The deal didn’t sit well with some neighbors, who charge that the Bensonhurst is oversaturated with Asian markets, and a petition circulated, calling for Trader Joe’s to bid on the property instead.
CB 11 and Treyger have made a point to condemn the racist comments that flooded social media regarding the sale, but said that neighbors also have legitimate concerns about construction noise, Waldbaums’ laid-off employees, and food selection at the incoming Asian market.
“While we reject the divisive rhetoric, one of beautiful things about Bensonhurst is you can walk down 86th Street and have the world at your palate,” said Treyger. “This is a neighborhood that was really shaken up; it was a poorly communicated process from beginning to end, and I wanted to reiterate a frustration that was valid.”
At the “very productive” meeting, Jmart reps also agreed, through a translator, to meet with the 70 employees laid off in the Waldbaums closure to discuss employment opportunities, according to Treyger. Jmart is considering holding a job information session in the fall when they are close to opening.
Jmart’s owners told Treyger that they are also open to recognizing seasonal holidays with decorations and special holiday foods the way their predecessors did.
In a gesture of goodwill, Treyger and Councilman Vincent Gentile have enlisted Wildcat Services to clean up Waldbaums’ abandoned parking lot, which — as we’ve reported — has become an illegal dumping ground for trash and debris. Jmart also recently installed “No Parking” signs at the site so that they may begin the construction on a brand new building.