Market forces

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the “food dispute” between longtime Flushing residents and Asian grocery stores.  Funny, because I know a lot of longtime Asian Flushing residents.  Seriously, Chinese people have been in Flushing for at least thirty years.  But I guess they don’t count as “real” longtime residents.

“Most of the supermarkets in the area are Asian markets and all they have is just one single aisle of food for us,” said Rosa Febles, 50 years old, who has lived in Flushing for four decades. “We feel a little left out.”

Interestingly enough, Febles’ family immigrated from Cuba.

I noticed one of the Korean grocery stores here has an aisle sign that reads “American foods” in Chinese and Korean.  So I feel her pain.  Uh huh.  And when I asked at another grocery store what happened to the Pringles, the manager explained, “This is a European grocery store.”  (I will note that Pringles have since made a reappearance, which caused me to tell him, “Apparently Europeans eat Pringles too.”)

Good old-fashioned American capitalist market forces prevailed in that case.  What about in Flushing?

A New York Mart (an Asian food store chain) opened in a building that was previously Key Food.  Why did Key close?

But officials at the company that ran the now-shuttered Key Food – Dan’s Supreme Supermarkets, Inc. – said declining business is exactly what caused them to call it quits.

“The demographic of the area is very Asian and we cannot compete because we don’t have the product lines,” said Ira Gross, vice president of Dan’s.

“We cannot operate profitably there,” he added. “We tried and tried and tried and it just doesn’t make sense.”

According to the WSJ article, the percentages of Asians and whites are nearly equal now.  No word on those other folks.  And yet an “American” grocery store wasn’t profitable enough to stay in business?

Some community members are now putting pressure on New York Mart to accommodate the non-Asian (the real American) residents. For example, they want the store to carry pet food.  (In another article, the manager of New York Mart noted the store does carry pet food.)  Additionally, they want a deli.  The general manager did not immediately agree to this, according to resident Mary Ann Boroz:

As far as the deli goes, he said he needs to look into it and consult with specialty people to try and work out the logistics. I suggested he contact the former owner of Key Food for advice, as Key Food has a really good deli with a large selection of products. I did not get a feeling of complete agreement, but I will continue to fight for this, as it is something that we really miss.

Key Food vice president, again:  “We cannot operate profitably there.”

Go take a look at their demands.

• A full line of name-brand products, frozen foods and dairy products and a variety of specialty foods encompassing all ethnic groups.

Not sure how you’d encompass all ethnic groups. I go to three Asian grocery stores and the above-mentioned “European” grocery store for almost all my food. From there, I get Wishbone salad dressing, falafel mix, tahini, soy sauce, Edy’s ice cream, milk, tortillas, etc. Not to mention the occasional tube of Pringles.

• A meat department that will include a full line of USDA-inspected meats, chickens and turkeys and a butcher on site to cut meats or chickens upon request.

Okay, I think adding that “USDA-inspected” part is just kind of offensive. But both the Asian groceries I go to have a big old meat department. Not to mention seafood. Plus butchers.

• A full deli department including cold cuts, salads and cheeses cut to order. Perhaps some baked goods like rolls and bagels. We all miss our rotisseries chickens, too.

I don’t eat deli. Or rotisserie chicken, whatever that is. But bagels I get from a bagel place. Grocery store bagels are an abomination.

• Holiday recognition of foods purchased during the holidays seasons — Passover, Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and all other holidays. Please include kosher foods as well.

Those are the only important holidays?

• A full line of pet foods so our cats and dogs will not go hungry, personal care items in brand names that we recognize, laundry supplies and medications, batteries and other household items — all were sold at the former Key Food.

I wonder if those non-Asian folks have even checked out New York Mart to see the line of pet food. And I’d certainly argue that you might recognize the names if you saw them over and over again. Much in the way I know what “Tide” is even though I don’t ever use it. But in any event, I saw Tide at the Asian grocery.

• Neighborhood jobs inside the store, people of all ethnic backgrounds and bilingual help inside to assist customers. We are a diverse community and this should be reflected in the store.

Did Key Food have Mandarin and Cantonese speakers? Just wondering. I assume by “neighborhood jobs” you mean “jobs given to people in the area who aren’t Asian.” By the way, most Asians working in the United States speak at least some English. Otherwise I’d never be able to find anything at the store.

• A staff that says “hi” and “thank you.”


• A recycling center to return deposit cans and bottles.

The European grocery store doesn’t have this. I don’t know about the Asian groceries. But I don’t think the big “American” chains here do either.

Mary Ann Boroz again:

Overall, do I think we will get what we want? Probably not. From what I have seen in the neighborhood regarding Asian markets, we will probably get a token aisle or two to call our own — certainly not the quantity of selection we are used to.

Chen, prove me wrong. Make the neighborhood happy and we in turn will help to make your business a profitable one.

I’m curious about where the non-Asian people were shopping previously.  Since Key Food failed, they obviously weren’t patronizing the really good deli there.  And what have they been doing since?  Starving?  Sounds like the lack of English signs has prevented them from buying staples.  Because a sign reading 香蕉 above those fruits doesn’t tell you anything.

“It doesn’t feel like America,” Febles says.

Guess that depends on how you define “America.”  And it begs the question, why aren’t complaining non-Asian Flushing residents assimilating?  Why aren’t they learning the language or the cultural norms?  Why are they demanding signs in their own language?  Do they expect to be catered to everywhere? If they don’t like it, why don’t they go back to where they came from?

3 thoughts on “Market forces

  1. *shudder. I saw that article in the Daily News and laughed out loud, not because it was funny. Because all asian people read and speak Chinese or Korean. :) They can starve as they see fit. F* fool racist people. “Go back to where they came from”… that made me smile

    And rotisserie chicken is really good btw…

  2. hmm, reminds me of when an old white lady was complaining to me about how difficult it was living in Flushing since all the Asians started moving in. Being Asian I was really offended and shocked she was so comfortable talking TO ME about it. It still bugs me, but can’t say I’m surprised by this story.

    Also regarding marketing and such, since Flushing has developed a larger Asian community some Asians outside the area seeking “non-traditional” groceries go there to shop. I’m sure there are countless other Asian families that feel isolated and out of place in their own neighborhoods because the only Asian products in the local Keyfood is ramen or some hot and sour sauce with a lame fortune cookie font label.

    I like the demand for foods encompassing all ethnic groups. Call me cynical but I know she doesn’t care about other ethnicities foods but to avoid being labeled racist she snuck that in, “see, I’m not racist I said ALL ethnicities!” pff

  3. Not having to pay a premium for brand names, not having to deal with holiday-themed crap, plus a staff that leaves me alone when I shop? Sounds like heaven to this caucasian grocery-shopper.

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