“Cry me a river” - that old-timey lyric sure does apply to the ruthless stealing away of our East End Gristedes on July 9. And we regular customers are crying, and so is the longtime staff, headed by co- mangers Ellen and Joe, who made this small supermarket on the 81st Street corner the lifeline of this far east enclave.
Sure, it’s absolutely needed for groceries and other useful sundries it supplies, yes, even the daily papers (and don’t we need them). But also needed are the nurturing neighborly ways bestowed by the longtime staff. They all regularly go the second mile for their customers, especially the elder ones. There’s also its accessibility that makes this loss so profound. Plus, everything inside is so easily accessible for those without 20/20 mobility.
And yes, this legal stealing away of needed local businesses to make room for luxury condo highrises is a citywide man-made disaster. And this East End Gristedes loss should be the poster store to spark a Save the Local Stores revolution. And, if “build they must” (are there no limits?), then the new towers must reserve affordable first-floor space for the stores and restaurants their construction displaced. And to spike the revolution, we must see people, yes, actually crying, over the loss of their so-needed small businesses and over the loss of longtime jobs they love.
Too often their sorrow is hidden, but not with Hilda, a 17-year Gristedes employee. “I can’t stop crying,” she told me. “My daughter says you’ve got to stop that, mom, but I am losing both beloved colleagues and customers I’m with five days a week.” And just then an elder shopper appeared frantically looking for her eye glasses, and Hilda and also Ellen immediately began the search. And I recall how Joe once stopped his work to look and find a credit card I had dropped. Ah, both Joe and Ellen have worked so hard and cared so much to make this Gristedes such an indispensable lifeline to the East End community. No matter the weather or holidays they are always there for us.
And the staff is caring in so many ways - both Hilda and Beljica use terms of endearment a lot, saying, “Thank you, my darlin’“, “Now, you take good care, my love.” And they mean it. Others like Donna, Ellen, Evelyn and Joe, express their caring concern more quietly. These are the staff member I know best, but there are others behind the scenes or part-timers who must be thanked. They are Batin, Carla, Dilara, Jose, Lefa. Rosa, Salvadore, Samra and Syeda.
And now you and I must demand elected officials to come by, offer regrets and say thanks for the store’s invaluable community service. But above all vow to work to protect these local businesses which meet community needs. May they also urge Gristedes’ president to give the best possible assignments to this so deserving staff and assign several to the same stores. The numbers of Rep. Maloney, Sen. Krueger, Assembly Member Seawright and Council Member Kallos are in this paper’s Useful Contacts column. Civic and faith group leaders and members must also pay respects and vow to make saving neighborhood businesses a top priority. So far, well I won’t get into that, or that some of the more affluent and powerful East Enders shed no tears over the Gristedes loss.
Ah, but this doomed building also houses the much needed, still open, East End Kitchen restaurant (before that it was the beloved Boeuf ala Mode) open for breakfast, brunch and dinner. It too brings neighbors together and is especially welcoming and accessible for the many community elders. But why aren’t advocates for older people working to save the places they need? One leader lives within eyeshot of 40 East End.
And the permanent effect of these losses must be stressed. Yes, literal and figurative tears need to be seen, but if anything ever deserved a “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” response. it’s to the wholesale destruction of the everyday places we need.
Again, dear, dear Gristedes staff friends, we love you and need your stories, tears and anger to enable a revolution hopefully sparked by our great mutual loss, losses that adversely affect us forever. Losses that adversely affect the city at large.