FRESH Starts in New York City

A little more than two years after its launch, a program intended to spark supermarket development in underserved communities in New York City has approved 10 projects with another four in the pipeline — a rate putting the city on track to reach goals of as many as 15 new stores and 10 renovations during its first decade.

The program known as FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) was approved by the City Council in September 2009. It provides tax incentives and zoning assistance to supermarkets serving so-called food deserts, or areas designated as underserved for the availability of fresh foods.

A statewide program known as New York Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund launched around the same time. It is a $30 million fund administered by the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) providing grants or loans for food markets in underserved communities, which often cannot obtain conventional financing for infrastructure costs and credit needs.

Several city projects have worked with one or both programs to facilitate development and renovations. These include a new 9,000-square-foot Key Food store under construction in Staten Island’s South Beach neighborhood; expansions and equipment upgrades at six Food Bazaar stores operated by Brooklyn-based Bogopa Service Corp.; a 35,000-square-foot Western Beef store in the Bronx; a 17,000-square-foot Associated Supermarket in the Bronx; and a renovation and expansion that would double the size of Moishe’s Discount Supermarket in Brooklyn.

“The first year of these programs is often a start-up year, but New York really hit the ground running,” said John Weidman, deputy executive director of the Food Trust, the Philadelphia based non-profit which partnered in the statewide program to determine eligible projects. “We’ve had a lot of interest from the grocery store industry already and we’re still accepting applications.”

According to the Food Trust, consumers in food deserts suffer more from diet-related diseases including obesity and diabetes than those in neighborhoods with better access to healthy foods. In Pennsylvania, where the Food Trust helped launch a statewide fresh-food financing program in 2004, retailers getting assistance to serve such neighborhoods are doing good business.

“In Pennsylvania most stores are really flourishing,” Weidman told SN. “There were a few stores that ended up closing, but it was a small percentage of all the projects, maybe four or five since 2004. We’ve been told that our success rate is greater than grocery stores in general. In New York it’s still young but if what holds in Pennsylvania remains true, the stores there should do very well.”

Weidman said that as many as 15 other states are considering such programs.