The Key Food on 31st Street in Astoria has been in the Man-Dell Food Stores family for nearly 50 years.
It’s been around for so long that community members talk about the business like an old friend.
"Key Food has been here many years,” said Debbie Ayyad, a longtime Key Food customer. “I grew up in Astoria. It’s a beautiful supermarket and we would like for Key Food to stay here.”
Man-Dell Food Stores have been trying to keep the grocery store in the same location for more than two years.
Company officials tell NY1 that, during those two years, they've been in talks with the landlord in the hopes of staying at the same location.
Man-Dell said it still hopes that Jenel Management will reconsider a plan to allow the supermarket's lease to end, demolish the building and then allow a big box store to take its place.
The arguments made by the grocery store have gained new momentum after the coronavirus swept across the city.
"Grocery store workers are considered essential employees. Can you imagine trying to wind down a store at this time? To close by October and lay off all of these people,” said Roseann Marabello-Rivera, the CEO of Man-Dell Food Stores, Inc.
The Astoria store employs about 100 hourly and salaried employees, many of them members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
With the state's unemployment rate at 14.5%, workers fear what would happen if they are laid off.
“There is no way they would be able to place all the employees in the other stores that we own,” said Key Food Assistant Manager Albert Pelliccia.
Several elected officials have joined the fight to keep the Key Food in the neighborhood. The elected officials are citing COVID-19 as a reason to keep the grocery store in place. They penned a letter to the property owner that said it was "sickening" to learn of the proposed closure "right in the middle of a global pandemic.”
The elected officials asked the owner to "at least offer Key Food a one-year lease extension to guarantee Astoria residents don’t go hungry as COVID-19 rages on.”
The CEO of Man-Dell Foods said the company is willing to make concessions, even if that means welcoming a competitor into the same building.
"We have no opposition to Target going in upstairs from us,” said Marabello-Rivera.
On Tuesday, a Target spokesperson confirmed that the company plans to open a new small-format store in Astoria in the coming years.
Jenel Management has written back to the local lawmakers who wrote them last week.
Their response said that they’ve never pursued eviction of the grocery store and don’t plan to.
It also said that after years of unsuccessful negotiations with the grocer, they finalized a new lease with a “major supermarket chain.”
They said that the lease has yet to be signed, amid the pandemic, but that they plan to do it soon.