About Roosevelt Island

"Boycott Gristedes!" Says Frank Farance

Updated 3 years ago Peter McCarthy
Gristedes Supermarket on Roosevelt Island
Gristedes Supermarket on Roosevelt Island
© David Stone for Roosevelt Island Daily

Gristedes has always been an outlier on Roosevelt Island, resistant to change and thin-skinned about complaints. Now, Frank Farance complains they have gone too far, canceling the WIC Program, a State service of vital importance to very young children and their mothers.

Update, August 19: Frank Farance has announced an organized protest near Gristedes for 10:00 to 11:00 tomorrow, Saturday, morning. Here is the text of his announcement:

"We will have a protest at the farmers market (on the Gristede's side of the corner) on Saturday from 10:00 to 11:00.

Here's the purpose of the protest: To make residents aware of the problem (no longer accepting WIC checks for Women, Infants, and Children) so they can further advocate for getting this problem fix (e.g., don't shop at Gristede's, contact legislators, sign a petition). 

I don't want this to be a crazy event where we are harassing Gristede's customers, I want this to be a peaceful neighborly thing where our goal is to inform our community, and hopefully get them to stand up against this injustice.  Wear your most colorful clothing, hopefully we will gather some attention."

Just in: State Assembly Member asks the Department of Health to help keep Gristedes in the program. See the full text of her letter below.


For me, Roosevelt Islanders' relationship with Gristedes is best illustrated by something I saw in our elevator last week. A young woman struggled through the doors in the lobby, lugging two heavy bags of groceries from Whole Foods. The nearest Whole Foods is on 57th Street, two blocks south of the Tram.

Gristedes is across the street and usually pretty empty relative to other grocery stores in the city.

As the only full service market that has ever offered groceries and drug store items on Roosevelt Island, you'd expect it to be a busy place where you ran into your neighbor at the checkout line. Instead, you're as likely to share a delivery truck from Fresh Direct or Peapod.

High prices, indifferent service and a history of out of date products on its shelves has cost Gristedes millions in sales over the years. The situation has been appalling from the day I realized that Gristedes charges us Upper East Side prices, secure in having a sweetheart lease and a captive audience. Seniors, the disabled and low income residents are left with little choice besides Gristedes.

Personally, I buy one item at Gristedes. Coffee filters. Once of twice a year I might buy something else in an emergency, but I would rather walk down to the deli or Wholesome Factory, across from the Good Shepherd Plaza, where products are fairly priced and fresh.

That's disappointing. When you have a supermarket across the street from you, the potential convenience is remarkable. But when it's Gristedes, in my experience, the convenience evaporates in the light of unreliable quality at high prices.

Why We Are Supporting Frank Farance's Call for a Boycott

Exchanging disparaging remarks about Gristedes with other Roosevelt Islanders is as routine as complaining about subway service. Both seem beyond improvement or, at best, impervious about it. Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer comes in handy.

"...the things I cannot change..."

Like Gristedes. Like subway service.

But sometimes, they go too far and serenity is not enough.

Gristedes decision to stop participating in the WIC program crosses a line into territory so unacceptable it must be protested.

Activist Helen Chiviras, who frequently aligns with Farance in trying to get the Residents' Association to play and active role in community matters, first recorded a complaint after being told about a sign addressed to WIC users and posted at the supermarket: "Gristedes Supermarkets has decided that it will no longer participate in the WIC Program after August 12, 2016."

The note goes on to explain that State administrators are not compensating Gristedes sufficiently to make the program viable.

Since Gristedes offers no details, it is impossible to consider their decision fully on its merits.

One thing is crystal clear, however. Whatever squabbles the grocery chain has with the State, the immediate victims are young children in need and their mothers. This is intolerable.

According to the Department of Health, "The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) offers nutrition education, breastfeeding support, referrals and a variety of nutritious foods to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum women, infants and children up to age five to promote and support good health."

Gristedes's action penalizes a very specific population of children during a formative period during which nutrition will affect the rest of their lives and, many studies show, cannot be reversed.

Needless to say, these small children are guiltless and cannot solve problems Gristedes says they have with the State of New York. Making matters worse, Gristedes owner, John Catsimatidis, is a billionaire, a member of the one percent of Americans who have come to be reviled for allegedly rigging the American economic system in their favor.

Gristedes must end this heartless policy now and find a more humane way of registering their grievances.

Frank Farance is right to call for a boycott. His colleagues on the Roosevelt Island Residents Association responded with predictable silence, once again unwilling to take on issues more critical than blood drives and Easter egg hunts. 

There has been positive responses elsewhere, however, including from the Roosevelt Island Parents' Network, and Farance is working to rally a group to picket Gristedes this weekend. We at The Roosevelt island Daily support his initiative and wish him success.

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