shopping block

As Red Hook Workers Fret Over Fairway Fate, Residents Say Grocer Priced Poor Out

The Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Jan. 23, 2020.
The Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Jan. 23, 2020. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

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The Fairway grocery chain’s bankruptcy filing Thursday revealed plans to sell its five Manhattan stores to a new owner — leaving the future of its other nine outlets in limbo.

The news hit especially hard in Red Hook, where for 14 years Fairway has operated a large store and cafe on the waterfront. On Thursday afternoon, managers told the workforce that the Brooklyn outpost may close in the next four to six months, according to a longtime employee.

Workers were called in to meet with bosses in groups of 10, the employee said. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, I’m still processing this,” the worker, who did not want to be identified out of concern about his losing his job.

The Red Hook Fairway opened in 2006 on Van Brunt Street to fanfare — and hopes it would employ area residents and revitalize the geographically isolated neighborhood, where it remains the only major supermarket.

But some locals say the store became too pricey for Red Hook residents with limited means, and helped spur ongoing gentrification.

The future of the private equity-owned company’s roughly 3,000 employees, most of whom belong to United Food and Commercials Local 1500, remains unclear. Bankruptcy filings show the company’s pension fund is not on track to have enough money to pay all the benefits owed into the future.

This isn’t the first time Fairway filed for bankruptcy. In 2016, the company reorganized its debt, sparing employees most of the negative impact.

Fairway, Local 1500 and Red Hook landlord Greg O’Connell — whose quest to bring Fairway to the neighborhood helped usher in a wave of trendy shops and restaurants into the once heavily industrial area — did not respond to requests for comment.

Early Days of ‘Lowest Prices’

Bankruptcy filings show rent of nearly $172,000 for Fairway’s space on the ground floor of O’Connell’s historic warehouse building at the end of Van Brunt Street, with two adjoining parking lots.

The 52,000 square-foot complex, along with its café, made-from-scratch bakery, sushi bar and catering business, became the company’s largest store when it opened in 2006.

First, it had to survive a lawsuit from neighbors — and the resignation and imprisonment of the local City Council member who controlled approval of the project, Angel Rodriguez, following an extortion conviction.

The Red Hook Fairway, with its own New York Water Taxi stop, quickly emerged as a destination for shoppers — many of them from outside the neighborhood — seeking specialty items and high quality, yet affordable groceries.

At the same time, the founding family that then owned Fairway made it a point to serve Red Hook as both a retailer and employer.

Inside the Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Jan. 23, 2020.
Inside the Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

“We always make sure to have the lowest prices,” co-owner Howard Glickberg told the Daily News in 2006. Glickberg and his family also vowed to hire neighborhood residents for a variety of entry-level union jobs, 375 in all, The New York Times reported.

Locals Take Closing in Stride

Residents who live in the nearby Red Hook Houses say the market gradually betrayed its ties to local low-income shoppers.

Lisa Gonzalez noted that prices at the grocery store started climbing after Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood in 2012. After the storm, a Fine Fare supermarket near Wolcott Street closed, and other Red Hook markets started disappearing, too.

“When I first moved here, it was a lot better,” said Gonzalez, who has lived in the Red Hook Houses since 2005. “But they racked up the prices after Sandy. People can’t shop there anymore.”

Gonzalez still goes to Fairway for specialty items, but takes the B61 bus to a C-Town in Park Slope for her regular shopping. The one in her neighborhood, she said, is of inferior quality.

Nahisha McCoy, another Red Hook Houses resident, said she wasn’t concerned about the possibility of Fairway closing.

“It doesn’t bother me one way or the other because I can’t afford to shop there,” she said.

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