Tri-State grocery chain Bogopa has been awarded $450,000 in sales tax exemptions under a city initiative to increase fresh food availability in the city’s "food deserts," but most of the incentives will go to renovations and fractional expansions at five existing supermarkets. In Bushwick, Bogopa has been granted incentives to increase the floor space of its 42,000 square-foot Wyckoff Food Bazaar by a third, despite the store – and its neighbor on an adjacent block, owned by the same company – already offering large selections of fresh food.
The recognition of "food deserts," areas of the city where residents are deemed to lack access to fresh healthy food, has motivated efforts to encourage the spread of more full-service supermarkets as an alternative to bodega shopping. After a 2008 report outlined the problems, the FRESH initiative (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) was launched under Mayor Bloomberg’s Five-Borough Economic Opportunity Plan to offer zoning and financial incentives for supermarket growth in eligible areas. In 2010, FRESH granted its first incentives for new Western Beef, Foodtown, and Associated supermarkets to be built in the Bronx.
This year’s first incentives have now gone to Bogopa, a Brooklyn-based chain operating sixteen stores under the Food Bazaar and Food Dimensions banners. According to the NYC Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA), Bogopa has agreed to build one new 10,000 square foot location in Corona, Queens, under the deal. The other five projects are renovations of larger existing stores in Concourse Village and Brownsville and expansions of 33% or less to stores in Jackson Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Bushwick. While the Bronx and Brooklyn supermarkets fall within the FRESH Program Areas, neither Queens location is near an eligible zone or an identified food desert. A NYCIDA spokesperson told BushwickBK that "not all eligible areas are currently visible on the map that’s on the website."
In a 2010 Full Service Grocery Store Analysis prepared by the Department of Health and presented on the FRESH website, an area called "Bushwick South" – stretching the length of the neighborhood between Broadway and Wilson Avenue – is offered as a case study in food desertification. The area of 73,300 residents hosts only five full service grocery stores. (The report does not, however, include Bushwick’s many small independent vendors of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and other perishables.)
Thus far, unfortunately, FRESH incentives are not bringing new dietary options to this area. They will instead go to the expansion of the Wyckoff Food Bazaar, a self-styled "produce and meat warehouse" which already boasts one of the largest and most diverse fresh food selections in the neighborhood. With large areas devoted to exotic produce, meat and seafood, and even an organic food section, the supermarket does not show any obvious shortfalls in the provision of fresh goods.
The Wyckoff store is also on a block adjacent to another Food Bazaar location on Gates Avenue, whcih was until recently branded a Food Dimensions, another Bogopa outlet of similar size. While the borough line running between the two stores means that the neighboring location is in Queens, the stores are actually less than 700 feet apart and form a significant retail nexus straddling the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station.
NYCIDA’s spokesperson explained to BushwickBK that "FRESH can be for used for renovation, expansion, or new construction. There are requirements for all stores that use FRESH benefits, including that at least 30% of the grocery store area must be used for perishable goods and at least 500 square feet must be for fresh produce."
Bogopa Director Justin Shon said that while the use of the square footage is not covered in the application, the company is "dedicated to expanding for more perishable offerings" in its stores. "We need to expand our fresh variety in that store, and we need to expand and renovate for that."
The expansion of Wyckoff Food Bazaar, which will now be accomplished with tax-exempt construction materials, may indeed give the supermarket an even larger variety of perishable foods. The construction offers nothing new, however, for the more distant, still underserved parts of Bushwick that have drawn so much attention as "food deserts." With the city’s approach defined in proxy measures of square footage and perishability, the connection to the FRESH program’s guiding concern, the "establishment and retention of neighborhood grocery stores in underserved communities throughout the five boroughs," remains uncertain.