As a key piece in the revitalization puzzle of Red Hook, businesses and residents in the neighborhood awaited the grocery store’s return, as it breathes life back into Van Brunt Street providing surrounding businesses with foot traffic, jobs and its neighbors with a wide variety of affordable groceries.
“A little more than four months ago, it’s fair to say Red Hook’s future looked brighter than ever, and then Sandy hit and dealt Red Hook what everybody thought was a devastating blow,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the opening ceremonies for the grocery store’s reopening last week. “The community did come back together and the city went to work around the clock with lots of residents and volunteers pitching in, and today Red Hook is back in action.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, the store’s vice chairman Howard Glickberg, Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, Borough President Marty Markowitz and several others joined forces to help reopen the store.
In order to speed up the rebuilding process and bring the store back as fast as possible, the grocery store and other businesses in the neighborhood took advantage of the city’s $12 million in low-cost loans, $2 million in grants and $1 million in tax breaks for the rebuilding process.
“Fairway really is a big economic anchor here and I want to applaud Fairway for keeping its team working these last four months,” Bloomberg said, praising the community’s efforts.
When the store went into to the rebuilding phase, all of the nearly 350 Red Hook employees stayed employed, whether working on the store’s cleanup or at other Fairway Market locations in the area.
Three buses came out to the store every day during the cleanup to take the employees to one of the other stores throughout the city.
Juan Arzu, employee at Fairway Market for the last two years, was sent to their location at 86th Street in Manhattan when the store closed down for repairs.
“I thought we would have to stay two to four months with no work,” Arzu said. “I didn’t want to wander so that was one of the great things, that they didn’t leave us outside waiting for the store to open.”
Arzu has worked for the chain since he moved from Guatemala, and as he says it provided him with a family. He is now happy to be back, working at his home again in Red Hook.
“Only thing when I moved stores was I had to work with different people, but the treatment was different,” he said. “It’s much better and I feel like I am home now.”
Iris Mota made the drive to Red Hook for her groceries, and after the store shut down she says she was unable to find a replacement grocery store in her community of Carroll Gardens during the rebuilding.
“Nothing beats the service that we get here, nothing beats the freshness of the produce and everything and we miss it,” she said. “The price is relatively good after the sales.”
Zaid Alwqza was in town visiting his in-laws just down the road from the store, and says he always goes to the Fairway Market when he and his wife are visiting.
“It’s very diverse in terms of what it has, and you don’t have to go all over the place for everything you need,” Alwqza said. “Sometimes they have really good discounts.”
One thing they both search for when finding a good grocery store are options from their own Middle Eastern ethnic background.
“They have things from all over the world,” he said. “Some things that are from my culture like the coffee, the olives and things like that just have a different taste.”
Bill Sanford, president of the grocery store chain, looks at the four-month rebuilding process as a way to step forward and grow his company even more.
“Everything you see in the store is new except for the floor tile and the ceilings,” he said. “We had to throw away all the food and equipment after Sandy because it was all damaged by the seawater.”
The store’s total insurance claim is about $20 million, while the replacement was about $3 million worth of assets and $2 million worth of inventory.
Today, Sanford says the store is planning to continue to grow in the city and surrounding communities with a new store opening in Chelsea on June 26 and another slated for November in Nanuet.
“Were trying to open two to three stores every year, so we’ve always got something in the works,” he said. “We’re looking for another place in Brooklyn. We’d love to be in Williamsburg, but we don’t have a spot figured out yet.”