Grocer at the crossroads


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  • A weekend street scene outside the Westside Market on Broadway just south of 77th Street, which has been its home since 1979. The supermarket's lease with the parent company of the Hotel Belleclaire, its landlord, expires on November 30, and it is unclear whether it will shut down or remain in its current location, where it has operated for the past 38 years. Photo: Douglas Feiden




  • The Hotel Belleclaire graces the southwest corner of Broadway and 77th Street in a 1930 colorized postcard. A city landmark designed by Emery Roth in 1903, the hotel has housed the Westside Market since 1979. The supermarket's lease with the parent company of the Belleclaire, its landlord, expires on November 30, and it is unclear if it will shut down or remain in its home of 38 years. Postcard: New York Public Library collection



Will the 38-year-old Westside Market lose its cozy if cramped home on Broadway and 77th Street? Or will the outpost re-up by November 30 when its lease expires?

BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN

A venerable, family-owned supermarket that has offered affordable fare and served the culinary needs of the Upper West Side since Ed Koch’s first term as mayor faces a looming deadline — amid uncertainty about whether it will vacate the premises or stay at its current location.

One of the three Broadway locations of the Westside Market, a fixture off West 77th Street on the ground floor of the Hotel Belleclaire since 1979, must either come to term with its landlord, the owner of the hotel, or else shut down by November 30, when its lease expires.

“I hope to goodness, they stay where they are, and if not, I hope they stay in the neighborhood,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who says she often shops there for the cheese, one of the shop’s specialties.

“It’s almost like life or death for our seniors,” Brewer added. “They rely on it, it’s more affordable than other places, and many of them aren’t able to walk very far. Where else are they going to shop if it moves or closes?”

For now, the fate of the Westside Market remains unresolved. But the store’s 50 unionized employees have been notified of a possible store closing and its owners have been scouting alternative locations. Still, its departure from Broadway is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Ian Joskowitz, the local chain’s chief operating officer, says Triumph Hotels, which owns the Belleclaire, is “negotiating in good faith” — and he makes it very clear to concerned shoppers that this is not the classic case of a rapacious landlord seeking to double or treble the rent.

“The rent is not the be-all or the end-all for us, though obviously it’s important,” Joskowitz said. Does that mean the bargaining parties are not that far apart? “Being not that far apart is the same thing as being completely far apart if we don’t have a deal!”

For its part, Triumph Hotels, which is also a family-owned firm that owns the Hotel Edison in midtown and six other hotels in Manhattan, said in a statement, “Negotiations are in progress, but no decisions have been made yet.”

A paramount concern in the fabled food corridor on the west side of Broadway between just south of 72nd Street and just north of 80th Street — which also sites Citarella, Fairway and Trader Joe’s to the south and Zabar’s to the north — is what comes next if Westside Market has to leave.

“We have no interest in watching the mall-ification of the Upper West Side,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the neighborhood. “We don’t want to see more Duane Reades, banks or coffee chains replace our locally owned small businesses, and that is the real risk here.”

Rosenthal has offered to help the grocer find alternative space if their only solution ends up being to go somewhere else, and Joskowitz says he will indeed take her up on the offer.

So what is the issue exactly? In many ways, it’s about space.

Let’s take a step back: The West Side is a tough market for a grocer offering fresh, healthy food options. Profit margins are razor-thin, rents are sky-high, competition from online delivery services is ferocious, and the commercial rent tax is punishing.

In that modern business climate — where an overheated real estate market hinders brick-and-mortar shops, but boosts web-savvy grocers – profitability can be nil or marginal, and expansion can be critical to survival.

The Westside Market, which occupies 7,500 square feet, is considered undersized and needs to expand in order to overcome its competitive hurdles, Joskowitz says.

Both its original Broadway location, at 110th Street, which was opened by the Zoitas family in 1977, and its store off 97th Street, which opened in 2012, occupy nearly 11,000 square feet, he explained. As part of its negotiations with Triumph, the grocer has been seeking to grow into a total of 10,000 square feet at the 77th Street location.

It’s not that easy. The 240-room Belleclaire, designed by Emery Roth in the Art Nouveau/Secessionist style and built in 1903, was designated a city landmark in 1987.

The hotel’s main entrance has long been on West 77th Street, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2016 gave Triumph a green light for a ground-floor restoration that would position an imposing entryway on the Broadway side of the building.

Triumph doesn’t discuss details of its negotiations, but it’s not clear if the owner believes the reconfiguration would permit the market to expand at is existing location.

So what happens next? “It’s a case of us doing what’s right for our business, and them doing what’s right for their business,” says Joskowitz.

He says that on November 30, he’ll either move out if no deal has been thrashed out – hopefully to nearby space – or else close to renovate and expand if the parties come to terms.

“It seems that at this point, there’s not a lot of movement, and we’re at a little bit of a stalemate,” Joskowitz adds. “But as with any negotiations, that could change in an hour, and boom, the deal is done, or it could never happen, and boom, it’s over.”


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