Gotta Appreciate Our Key Food, As Windsor Heights Store Supplanted By Walgreen’s

The closing of a supermarket is always an unexpected phenomenon, particularly when they provide the neighborhood with one of its core services. In Brooklyn Heights, Montague Street’s Key Food has been around for decades… Can you imagine the neighborhood without it? (Gristede’s: uh, personal opinion, yes).

On June 30, the Key Food on Prospect Avenue in Windsor Terrace is closing its doors—to be replaced by pharmacy mega-chain Walgreens—and Marty Markowitz is not happy about it. According to the Windsor Terrace-Kensington Patch, a deal was finalized last week following the retirement of the grocery’s 80-year-old majority owner. Some 50 employees are now out of a job.

The Key Food closing is so dramatic for the region that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is weighing in: He calls it “a terrible blow to local residents left with few to no options for one-stop shopping access to quality, affordable food. It’s extremely difficult to compete with major drug store chains and banks that are over-populating neighborhoods.” See his full statement below.

The closing of Key Food on Prospect Avenue in Windsor Terrace strikes a terrible blow to local residents who are left with few to no options for one-stop shopping access to quality, affordable food. While I’m a firm believer in free enterprise, the unfortunate reality is that when it comes to buying, renting or leasing these locations, it’s extremely difficult to compete with major drug store chains and banks that, one could argue, are over-populating neighborhoods that are under-populated with full service supermarkets.

My office has long advocated for food justice and better access to supermarkets and fresh, nutritious foods in our most underserved neighborhoods, and this is a troubling reminder of why that fight has to continue. In fact, efforts will be made to convince Walgreens to provide a green grocer/fresh fruits and vegetables sub-tenancy or green market stall in Windsor Terrace as it has done in Bay Ridge and at other locations across the country to complement the limited food selection at their stores.

I have spoken with the president of Key Food Stores Co-op, Inc. and it’s my expectation they will make every effort to determine if another suitable site can be found to serve the residents affected by the loss of the Windsor Terrace supermarket.

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  • Jorale-man

    I know it’s a familiar complaint on here, but the Key Food stores in BH would have a lot more community goodwill on their side if they were fixed up and renovated. Both stores feel tired and a bit dingy and the aisles are perpetually cramped. The prices are decent but the overall shopping experience could be improved. That being said, it would be a loss to the neighborhood if one of them closed.

  • Luke C

    It’s shocking that the management of companies like Key Foods and Gristede’s are so oblivious to changing markets that they are forced to close stores. Their management should see their imminent failure in 6 people-long lines compared to the dozens-deep lines at new stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods. I’m not saying they need to be like those stores in all locations, but if they lose market share in Manhattan to those stores, they’ll opt to close their least profitable stores, most likely the lower-priced ones in the less high-income nabes. I think the BEEP should be appealing to the likes of TJs rather than Key Foods to build a new store, our local chains are just too poorly managed to survive.

  • Mh

    To the above commenter, the closing of Key Food on Prospect Avenue had absolutely nothing to do with how the store was managed or how much money it was making. It is closing because the owner wants to retire at 80 years old.

  • Min Miller

    It is helpful to have local grocery stores like Key Foods but they would get a lot more of my business if they were cleaner and the staff was nicer. As it is, I avoid them in all but emergency situations and do my shopping at Trader Joes, Fresh Direct and the green market. Every time I do go in it is an unpleasant experience.

  • lulu

    The cashiers are largely ex cons and the produce is rotten. Please close our Montague Key Food.

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    You can only make this ludicrous statement on this blog because you are anonymous.
    I know many of the people who work at the Key Food on Montague and they are good, decent people.

  • Lydia Gordon

    This is the second instance in which a Key Food store closed, only to be replaced by Walgreens. It happened in Bay Ridge and now it’s happening in Windsor Terrace. The Bay Ridge residents were assured that Walgreen’s would be structured as a supermarket with grocery and produce sections. It didn’t happen or at least what is available in the way of food is minimal. Has some sort of deal been struck between Key Food and Walgreen’s???

  • Knight

    Lulu’s statement was a bit extreme, but I get her (his?) point. The staff at the Montague Street Key Food, particularly the cashiers, have a way of making you feel very unwelcome in the store.

  • BH’er

    agree with Knight… the cashiers are usually appallingly rude and record-settingly slow

    their products are fairly priced but the checkout experience could hardly be any worse

    i, too, avoid the store at all costs but it would be unfortunate if it closed (barring whole foods as a replacement tenant)

    it’s too bad management does not address this issue

  • PromGal

    Key Food on Montague Street has been a disgusting place to shop for many many years.
    Aside from the rude and surly cashiers, and the lack of help, the overcrowded narrow aisles makes for an unpleasant shopping experience.
    The worst is the smell of rotting food coming from the basement, especially in warmer weather. I would never consider buying meat ir chicken there. The quality is poor, and it is stored under questionable conditions.
    We have wonderful butchers, bakeries, and fish stores in the BH/Cobble Hill area, Personally, I prefer to shop ar Fairway Red Hook which is very customerfriendly, and has parking.

  • eg

    Lulu, and all who write like her: I have had nothing but courteous and helpful people at Key Food, cashiers included. You statements are so outrageous.

    The Key Food markets are individually owned, and the one on Montage Street had made a great effort to improve its’ products. It’s a small store compared to suburban supermarkets, but they are carrying many more popular brands now.

    I believe some of the cashiers may have just come out of a cashier-training school. All the managers have always been so helpful, and I live here now for 34 years, so I should know.

    Watch what you say!

  • She’s Crafty

    In the past I’ve been a big hater of Montague St. Key Food, but I do recognize that in the past several months they’ve made an effort to spruce up and somehow, I feel the staff is nicer too. I do a fair amount of shopping there, and tend to shop the sales and get good bargains. However, my one, ongoing complaint is how disgusting the deli department is. Those prepared foods in the refrigerator part always have brown crusty tops and there’s a strange smell of rancid cheese. I think they should give up on the prepared foods (who eats those anyway, gross) and put something else in there, not sure what. But overall, I have noticed a significant improvement.

  • RF

    Fairway is great, but many of us don’t have cars. As I live in the north Heights, Key Food is the only option for picking up a few things on the way home. (I refuse to shop at Gristedes because of their outrageous prices. And, their produce is considerably worse than KF’s.) TJs is good for many things, but the crowds can be oppressive. When I am over there, I often shop at the vegetable store on Atlantic near Sahadi’s.

    Lulu’s remark about excons is beneath contempt.

  • BH’er

    @eg – not sure you’re talking about the same KF – the issue isn’t the cashiering skills, it’s the interpersonal and customer service skills and attitude that is lacking

    the product mix is meager, but good enough – there’s a lot to squeeze into tight spaces, so that is fine

    but agree with the comments on the deli, produce and chicken – we try to stick to the non-perishables there

    just from the way they leave food on the sidewalk while moving it into the store, items like produce, milk and chicken don’t stand a chance…

  • Knight

    @eg: I hate to name names, but I hope that next time you shop there you get Florence as a cashier when she is in one of her bad moods (which is almost always). She’s the worst of the bunch. Maribel isn’t one to smile much, but at least she is usually pleasant.

    I know that a lot of people liked Mohammed when he ran the place, but the people he hired seem to be the lasting problem. The newer employees seem to be a lot more friendly.

  • A.G.

    If you want to see a great Key Food with wide aisles and a great selection of nice looking produce, hop on over to the one on 5th ave near St. John’s Place in Park Slope. They have a very nice and clean deli counter, large selection of cheeses, both domestic and imported and friendly and helpful employees.

  • Mr Crusty

    Maybe the cashiers aren’t the friendliest but to call them all ex-cons should certainly win them over. Hey it’s a miserable low paying job. I’m always amused when some pampered customer wants service with a smile as well. Why don’t you try their job for a month Lulu and we’ll all come to observe your customer service skills after you have been on your feet form8 hours.

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    Mr Crusty,
    You hit the nail on the head when you stated that pampered customers want service with a smile too.
    I get along very well with most of the cashiers in KF. I am there most mornings and I smile and say hello to everyone and I get a smile and a hello back. You get what you give.
    I have had many conversations with the owner of the store and he loves his store and wants to do well at that location. I do believe he would listen to constructive comments about the store so I suggest maybe dropping him a note to tell him what your concerns are.
    I myself will not buy a chicken in that store. I buy chickens at Trader Joe’s. All in all they are cheaper than Gristede’s by a lot.

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    I meant to say that chickens are fresher at TJ’s but all in all KF is much cheaper than Gristede’s.

  • Andrew Porter

    What people here don’t understand is that Gristede’s is a chain, run from a central office. Each Key Food is owned by a different person or company. They merely share a common buying system—which give them purchasing power, common sales brochures (note how some sale items in the flyers are for departments the local stores do not offer), and common rules of operation.

    Thus the closing of the Windsor Heights store, as the owner is retiring. That closing does not affect the other stores in the chain.

  • BH’er

    It’s too bad they haven’t built a second/third floor onto that building – it looks like it could be done based on the neighboring buildings

    with another floor (or two) of space they could really make KF into a top notch place

  • lulu

    I’m sure the cashiers at Key Food all got their gang tattoos at charm school. If you don’t think friendlier service is possible in a low-paying job, check out Garden of Eden. Or more or less any other store around (except for CVS, which of course is right on par with KF).

  • Friend of Key Food

    I want to weigh in with a positive “shout out” to the owner / manager of Key Food for delivering a better than expected overall shopping experience, considering selection, value, and overall quality of staff. I also shop Traders, Garden, Fairway, Atlantic Ave green grocer, and each has it pluses and minuses. None are perfect, but KF is clearly in the mix. Traders and Fairways are the best overall, but Taders you have to fight your way through the store and wait on interminable lines. Great value and high quality fruit, veg and nut offering. Staff is very friendly. Fairway has an exhaustive selection, good value, friendly staff, but long lines. Gristedes, on the other hand, is abysmally managed, the prices are extortionate, the vegetable / fruit offering is a joke, and the checkout staff are low quality. Avoid at all costs. Don’t know how they stay in business.

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    Friend of Key Food,
    It’s admirable of you to defend Key Food but to suggest that the checkout staff at Gristede’s is “low quality” is absolutely absurd.
    Who says things like “low quality” when referring to another human being?

  • ColumbiaHeightster

    I shop at both frequently. The check-out ladies at Gristede’s (in my experience, they have always been women) are always friendly and always quick. KF is the exact opposite – they are yelling across the registers to each other, rude to the customers, and one guy in particular is too busy singing at the top of his lungs to do his job efficiently. That’s not what anyone is looking for in a neighborhood grocery store. Montague KF shutting down would be a great thing.

  • Anon

    I love the guy who sings! I think that’s so terrific to see a huge dude singing in a high pitched voice as he checks you out. But also, I find the cashiers to be quite nice. They are nice to my kids too. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of customers be really rude. They don’t even say a hello, don’t even look the cashiers in the eye, and I guess they expect the cashiers to grovel to them bc they are spending $5.95 or whatever? I have no problem with key food. As far as produce – they have surprisingly good organic peaches, nectarines and apples. Frequently better than Perelandra’s.

  • Laurie Trombley

    As a longtime resident of Windsor Terrace, I love the neighborhood but have often been frustrated by the lack of food options outside of Key Food (which is often very overpriced).

    Now that the convenience is being taken away, I am very upset.

    The reason is because of my older/elderly neighbors who do not have a car, are on limited budgets and enjoy the freedom of walking to the grocery store and the independence they feel doing it.

    Now to do a proper grocery shop and not just go to a pricey Bodega, hey will have to take a car service both ways, which obviously adds to their cost, or walk more than a mile, if they are able to do so.

    I find the shuttering of the Key Food despicable. I will not visit Walgreens as a silent protest and know that several of my elderly neighbors plan on boycotting as well.

    It’s terrible.

  • She’s Crafty

    Love the singing guy too! He’s my fave cashier.

  • Mr. Crusty

    @ColumbiaHeightster: “Montague KF shutting down would be a great thing.”

    For whom? Hey if you don’t like the singing cahiers at KF dont’ shop there. It’s as simple as that. Why do you want to deny all the residents of BH that would be tremendously inconvenienced by it shutting down?

    Get a grip people, cashiers make around $9 – $10 per hour. They stand on their feet all day long doing the most mundane and boring task imaginable. To complain that they are not sufficiently appreciative of their wonderful job and that they don’t welcome every customer with a broad smile is the height of arrogance.

    You know what? I could care less of my cashier is smiling, not smiling, whether she/he greets me or ignores me. All I want from them is to check out my items efficiently so I can be on my way. Get over yourselves people you sound the French aristocracy complaining how you can’t get sufficiently obsequious help anymore. Good grief.

  • ColumbiaHeightster

    @Mr. Crusty, I said it would be a great thing because presumably any other business in that space would be better. Especially a well run grocery store.

    I agree with your sentiment that “All I want from them is to check out my items efficiently so I can be on my way.” If that’s what was actually happening there, a lot of these complaints would be muted, but that’s not the reality.