Flushing, NY, April 28, 2016
THE NATIONAL SUPERMARKET ASSOCIATION HOSTED A CITY COUNCIL ROUNDTABLE
National Supermarket Association President Rodolfo Fuertes, hosted a City Council roundtable with Councilmembers Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Rory Lancman, Antonio Reynoso, Paul Vallone, and, not pictured, Eric Ulrich and Ydanis Rodriguez. About recent and future bills with direct impact on the borough’s grocery industry. The National Supermarket Association, based in Flushing, largely represents Hispanic-owned independent supermarkets in New York and major East Coast urban areas.
Its members discussed street vendors, worker retention policies, rising rents and overregulation in general at a dinner and roundtable meeting with Councilmembers Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst), Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan).
Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, served as the moderator.
In recent terms the Council has approved an expansion of streetcart vendor permits, particularly those selling fresh produce. It has also established a 90-day job protection mandate for workers, no matter how good or bad, following the sale of a supermarket.
Today, Thursday, the Council is expected to vote on a 5-cent per bag fee on most plastic and paper shopping bags. It also is working on a bill to consolidate commercial waste collection by territory rather than by business owner’s choice.
David Corona, a past president of the NSA and former Queens’s grocery store owner, hit Council members right out of the starting gate.
“What can you do about taxes and regulations?” he asked. “What about vendor reform?” Others asked about possible limits on rent increases, and in general more consultation with grocery store owners when bills come up that affect them.
The Council members addressed all items — except for taxes. The members said they as franchise owners with family-owned stores should not be confused with large national or regional grocery chains.
“We don’t have a real estate guy in the office checking out possible new locations,” one owner said.
Streetcart vendors are a particular thorn in the sides of grocery store owners when they set up shop right outside.“When we sell fruit, we have to have a certain temperature,” Corona said. “We have inspectors come in. [Cart owners] don’t have refrigeration on a hot summer day ... they don’t have the regulations and costs we do.”
“When you were proposing [green vendor permits], we told you what would happen,” Nelson Eusebio said. “When you’re passing a bill that affects us, why don’t you talk to us?”
Council members said supermarket owners need to keep on top of not only members in Queens or Brooklyn, but of what bills are coming before which committees.
Most of the Council representatives on hand said there has to be fairer and more efficient code enforcement by city agencies, and that they should be called for problems with the Department of Buildings, Health Department, FDNY and others.
But Ferreras-Copeland and others said that line of communication has to work both ways, specifically mentioning the worker retention act passed last year. “We heard from the unions,” she said.
As for limiting vendor permits, Reynoso said he would like the city to issue more, but also to establish squares, pedestrian triangles and other areas where they would be concentrated, eliminating some of the direct competition with supermarkets.
On the number of markets that have closed due to skyrocketing rents, Lancman and others said a proposed commercial rent cap bill would be challenged in court immediately.
“It would be very difficult to pass,” Reynoso said. “And if we lost [in court], we could lose a lot of power to regulate other things.”
Reynoso also is working on a bill that would restrict commercial sanitation carters to their own regions with the aim of reducing truck traffic in the three communities — his Brooklyn-Queens district and Jamaica included — that handle about 80 percent of all the city’s trash.
He dismissed out of hand fears that giving carters monopolies for regions would lead to an increase in costs. One owner said a city in Florida saw a rate increase of 60 percent after doing so.
“We’re New York City,” he said.
He said a request for proposals for such a program would place a cap on costs, though Ferreras-Copeland said once an RFP goes out it is out of the Council’s hands and becomes a matter for the procurement arm of the Mayor’s Office.
Founded in 1989, the NSA is celebrating its XXVII anniversary this year. The association represents the interest of independent supermarket owners from New York and other cities in the east coast of the United States and Florida. The association provides its members representation in the private and public sectors and advocates issues that impact the entire supermarket industry.
Current membership represents close to 400 supermarkets, the stores are located in predominantly minority neighborhoods.