February 11, 2016 — Source: CRAIN'S — Special programs are nice, but the government should rein in peddlers, lower food-store taxes and repeal a recently-passed law.
Jilly Stephens of City Harvest wrote a thought-provoking op-ed on the decline of supermarkets in New York City, noting that these stores “are the cornerstones of our communities, offering vital food while also lifting local economies, creating critical jobs and facilitating important social connections.”
Stephens recognized that the city needs to make the Fresh program stronger and to develop more effective incentives to not only promote new supermarkets in our neighborhoods, but to preserve our existing ones. She did, however, leave out a couple of major disincentives—city policies that inhibit the industry’s growth.
First, the city's ill-conceived Green Carts initiative has led to the proliferation of produce peddlers in so-called underserved areas. As we in the supermarket industry had predicted, these vendors set up shop right on the commercial strips where supermarkets, bodegas and green grocers were already providing fresh produce to these communities.
These Green Carts and their brethren in Manhattan—who are allowed to operate directly in front of our supermarkets—take anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000 a week from our registers, forcing us to let workers go and costing supervisory personnel their jobs, too. A city whose stated goal is to preserve supermarkets should not allow this kind of unfair competition.
Supermarkets are heavily taxed and regulated in the city. Produce peddlers are not. Our own stores are fully unionized and our workers have great wages and benefits. However, with the kind of overhead we operate with, it is impossible to compete with a peddler whose only expense aside from inventory is a $250 bi-yearly license fee.