Brooklyn, NY. "Protesting Like Crazy" Gets Walgreen's To Add A Grocery Store
What started off last summer as another unwanted corner drugstore, has turned into a project the community can feel better about.
In early July, 2012, Sprawl-Busters received the following email from an activist in Brooklyn:
"I was interested in getting more information about the services you offer. I am a resident of the Windsor Terrace neighborhood in Brooklyn NY, where we are currently fighting the planned opening of a Walgreens drugstore. In trying to research possible ways to fight this, I stumbled upon your website. There is a community meeting being held this evening, but I am afraid that current efforts have not gone far enough, and we are running out of time.
Walgreens has leased the property from the owner of a supermarket that was on the site for about 40 years. The neighborhood is now being left without any substantial grocery options and the residents do not want anything other than a full service grocery store in that location. Walgreens is going to take possession on August 1st."
About three weeks later, in early August, the follow up email arrived:
"Since I spoke to you last, our group has become more organized but still has much room for improvement. We started a website called greenbeansnotwalgreens.org. Please feel free to take a look and give me any feedback.
I have increased the number of volunteers helping me to hand out flyers and get signatures to about 30. So far we have collected over 3,000 signatures on our pledge to boycott Walgreens. Walgreens lease started yesterday, so we had a rally and press event at the site. It was covered by 3 local news stations for TV, many blogs, and I have been told the NY Times was there as well. My husband even made up a flyer about the 'Walgreens Walkout' as you had suggested, and it was very popular.
All our elected officials came too: Borough president, State Senator, Assembly member, and City Council member. So far, Walgreens has not responded to any of our requests to share the space with a supermarket. Supposedly, the Borough President is in negotiations with Walgreens, the details of which neither side will disclose. I, along with many other people don't believe that an acceptable solution is going to come from this.
Please let me know what you think our next steps should be. I would like to try and give you a call again, this time with some other people willing to hear what you have to say."
On October 23, the next email brought a little more progress:
"I wanted to update you on what is going on with the proposed Walgreens in our neighborhood. We are continuing to get press coverage including most recently, The Wall Street Journal and a piece on WNPR Marketplace. We have also reached our original goal of 5,000 petition signatures.
We are in contact with a representative from Walgreens who is telling us that they are still in negotiations with an unnamed supermarket and are working off our list of demands. They are internally working with architects to figure out what the building will look like but it will need to be expanded onto the parking lot and they will need to get zoning variances. They are insisting on having some sort of contract signed before they meet with us.
We keep reinforcing that we do not want to be surprised, and we would like to be able to give them input to be sure they are going in the right direction, but they continue to be unwilling to give us any real details.
Our group is not quite sure how to proceed at this point, because although we are distrustful of Walgreens, there are definitely some type of negotiations taking place. Please let me know if you have any advice."
And on November 30 another update arrived:
"I hope you are doing well and had a nice holiday. The original meeting that was supposed to take place between our group and Walgreens was postponed because of [Hurricane]Sandy, but finally took place about 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but all of the other members of the steering committee were there as well as our elected officials, a representative from Walgreens and the operator of the proposed Key Food that will be opening next to Walgreens. Everyone in attendance seemed to feel that the meeting was very positive. Walgreens presented detailed floor plans which included information about the layout of their store and items that will be carried. Apparently the information from the Key Food operator was less specific, but it seemed that he did not have the time to prepare the way Walgreens did.
Currently, Key Food is going to have 5,000 square feet of merchandise (we asked for 10,000 but were expecting about 5,000) which will include existing space in the current building plus some additional space that will need to be built out. Walgreens will need to get variances for the build out. Earlier this week, I went on a tour of another Key Food that is run by the same owner that plans on opening in Windsor Terrace. He is very anxious to get started and says that he is waiting for Walgreens to give him the word so that he can get things started. He would actually like to take the entire space and Walgreens apparently told him that he could have an additional 1,000 square feet which would involve building into the parking lot a little and as far as he knows, that as well as a disagreement about a freight elevator seem to be the only things holding up the deal right now.
At the meeting with our group, Walgreens agreed to meet with the entire community before Christmas to reveal their plans, but have not yet made a commitment to a date. We are still all being asked to keep all of this information private, but feel that our community has the right to know what is going on, and that Walgreens should be the ones to present things to them. We are putting pressure on Walgreens and our electeds to commit to a date for the meeting, and we also want to ensure that the Key Food gets their additional space.
We feel that overall, things seem to be looking very positive, but we remain cautious until anything is finalized. If you have any suggestions about how we should proceed, I would really appreciate it."
Finally, on February 22nd, victory was in the air:
"I just wanted to share the good news with you. Walgreens finally met with the community last night and revealed their plans to share the building with a key food supermarket. As you probably know, this is unprecedented in the company's history so we are all very pleased with the outcome. Thank you again for all your input and advice, it was extremely helpful."
The New York Daily News reported the day before that "Windsor Terrace residents have been protesting like crazy for nine months, and now it appears they will finally get what they've been fighting for: a new supermarke." Walgreens announced that it would expand its building to make room for a 5,000 s.f. Key Foods grocery. "It's a big win for a neighborhood with a high proportion of aging residents and non-drivers. 'We think this is a huge victory for the community,' said Ryan Lynch of Green Beans Not Walgreens, a group that threatened to boycott the pharmacy giant unless a supermarket was built... The new store will have an array of fresh food including produce, cheeses, seafood and a meat department with a butcher -- plus nonfood items that full-sized supermarkets offer. Zahriyeh and Walgreens agreed not to sell duplicate products so they won't cut into each other's business. The Key Food, expected to open in the fall, will occupy about one-third of the expanded 14,149 square-foot building."
The Daily News credited Borough President Marty Markowitz, who lives in Windsor Terrace, with bringing protesters into discussions with Walgreens execs last fall. "This is a real 180 degrees from where Walgreens was before," one resident told Walgreens.
What you can do: The Walgreens real estate department has very clear siting criteria for what they want in a new store location:
1) a freestanding location at signalized intersection of two main streets with significant traffic counts.
2) Direct access to service the site.
3) 60,000 square feet of land to accommodate parking for 50+ cars and a pharmacy drive thru.
4) a 14,820 s.f. store in a trade area with 20,000 population, and
5) an LED Readerboard pylon sign near the street.
This is the Walgreen's formula -- but as the residents of the Windsor Terrace have proven, the corporate formula can be changed if enough local residents speak out and fight back.
Readers are urged to call Walgreen's at 1-800-WALGREENS and leave the following message: "I just wanted to congratulate Walgreens for having enough common sense to listen to your neighbors in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. I know this is not typical for Walgreens -- but maybe it ought to become typical corporate behavior -- for you,and other national brand box stores. Give neighbors some of what they want and they will pay you back with cooperation."