By Caroline Benveniste

During the warmer months, supermarkets in the Village continued to deteriorate: The Associated Supermarket on West 14th Street closed in the spring, empty shelves were reported at D’Agostino, and Brooklyn Fare, which was supposed to open early this summer, was still unfinished. But, starting last month, things began to improve: Catsimatidis rescued D’Agostino, at least for the moment, and on September 23rd, Brooklyn Fare finally opened. I had been monitoring the situation, going by periodically to check, but still I missed it. And it turns out that was intentional—the store is in soft-opening mode. I heard from both Will Sneddon, the store manager, and Moe Issa, the owner, that they want to get all the kinks out before the grand opening, which will probably occur the first or second week in November.

The store is attractive and cheerful, a far cry from many cramped and dingy City supermarkets. As I remembered from the Brooklyn and Hell’s Kitchen locations, there was a mind-boggling number of items: The rice selection was stunning, the whole OXO collection of kitchen gadgets populated another wall, and the ice cream options filled several large freezers. This pattern repeated itself for many categories of food. Apparently, Brooklyn Fare carries twice as many items as Whole Foods. I found a number of items that I’ve not been able to get anywhere else. And it is not only the quantity, but the diversity of items that is surprising. Many of the products are artisanal, organic, small-batch, but many are not. I spotted Aunt Jemima and Eggos in one of the frozen food cases while, in another, Amy’s reigned supreme. Commercial crackers coexisted with boutique biscuits.

A BRIGHT SPOT IN THE VILLAGE SUPERMARKET SAGA: The large selection, good quality, and reasonable prices in the produce department repeat in other departments throughout the store. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.
A BRIGHT SPOT IN THE VILLAGE SUPERMARKET SAGA: The large selection, good quality, and reasonable prices in the produce department repeat in other departments throughout the store. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.

This is all part of Moe’s philosophy; he wants his store to appeal to everyone, not just a select few. And he will continue to fine-tune his selection of products to best suit the neighborhood. Moe is very involved with all his stores; he visits them six to seven times a week and listens a lot. He listens to his managers and his cashiers. He told me that in many other supermarket chains, the owners are not as involved, and the managers are not given the authority to change things. He listens to the customers and assiduously reads Yelp reviews. He uses what he hears to converge on the optimal product mix (which he thinks will take a year and a half to two years to achieve). And he is passionate about his work.

His desire to please a large subsection of the population seems to be working. One Yelp reviewer recently wrote about the store: “They have a tremendous amount of products. Both organic and chemical-laced (which is, unfortunately, hard to find in the health-obsessed West Village).”

When George and I met with Nick D’Agostino and John Catsimatidis, we brought up the fact that many elderly people who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time do not have much money to spend on food. George coined the term “the gentrified poor” to describe them. When I spoke with Moe, he was the one who brought them up. He said he was very conscious of the demographics and realized that not everyone in the Village was rich. He said he had the same experience at his Brooklyn store, and is therefore committed to carrying products that those living in more straitened circumstances can afford.

I thought the prices were, for the most part, quite reasonable. Some were great. Turkish pistachios, available in the convenient bulk section, were $12.49/lb rather than the $19.99/lb I’ve seen elsewhere. Hand-sliced smoked salmon was $25.99/lb, about $10 less than most gourmet stores. The produce section is excellent, particularly compared to most supermarkets. Some people think the prepared foods are pricey, but they are all made from scratch in the Hell’s Kitchen location and brought to the store early every morning. The pastries and baked goods are also made daily in the central kitchen. The fresh pasta, however, is made right in the Greenwich Street store and has been getting rave reviews.

While Moe would like to maintain low prices, the rent on the space is not cheap. He also wants to provide good service so he needs to hire capable managers and staff. He hopes that, on balance, people will find Brooklyn Fare cheaper than other comparable options although not every item will be the cheapest. But with excellent sale prices, the loyalty card (you get $10 off for every $300 you spend) and the convenience of finding everything in one place, not to mention the pleasant shopping experience, I imagine that lots of Villagers will be Brooklyn Fare devotees before too long.

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