As businesses continue their pandemic rebounds, and as Americans face inflated costs across the country, a Coney Island supermarket is under fire for allegedly ripping customers off — and has already been cited several times by the city for failing to post its high prices in-store.
“They rarely put prices in general,” Councilmember Ari Kagan said of Fine Fare Supermarket on Mermaid Avenue. “That is a significant problem because people don’t know much their items cost, and then they go to cash out, and then they have no choice sometimes.”
Kagan, who represents Coney Island, as well as Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Sea Gate, said his office has received countless complaints about the store’s inflation of prices, as well as its shady tactics. He and his staff promptly alerted the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection, which issued summonses to the Coney Island Fine Fare in March and May of this year for failing to post prices of grocery items, but has not issued any for price gouging, according to an agency representative.
The spokesperson added that the DCWP has received 39 complaints about the Coney Island business, part of a chain of stores which first opened in the 1970s.
Following the summonses, management promised to resolve the issues, Kagan told Brooklyn Paper. But, not long after, he was alerted to even more allegations, such as Fine Fare charging Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program customers for paper bags and selling spoiled meat.
“I got new complaints now, because in the law about bags if you are SNAP recipient you should not be charged the price of a paper bag or biodegradable bag,” the pol said, “And they are charging everybody regardless.”
In wake of those new issues, Kagan and District Leader Dionne Brown paid a visit to the grocer on May 7, at which time they found price gouging to still be running rampant. Afterward, Kagan slammed the supermarket on social media for charging $9 for a box of cereal, and $16 for a small bag of Pampers diapers.
“Despite New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection warnings and summonses, Fine Fare store continues ripping customers. They are failing to display prices for stocked items,” Kagan posted to Facebook. “And their prices on some items are outrageous. This supermarket either does not display prices at all on stocked items or display really exorbitant prices.”
Kagan further alleged that, when he confronted the store manager about the issues, the employee blamed the customers.
“Store manager tried to blame all these problems on … customers!!! Then he denied charging SNAP recipients money for paper bags,” the councilmember wrote. “And he pretended he had no idea about spoiled meat in his store.”
Fines for failure to post prices of stocked items can range between $18 and $1,000, which is determined by the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. If the business does not resolve the issues causing the summons, the DCWP can continue to issue summonses until the problem is fixed, potentially dipping into funds needed for owners to keep the supermarket up and running.
Fine Fare did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
While many are up in arms about the store’s prices, some argue that the business is just doing what it needs to survive amid the pandemic, and that management is most likely facing supply chain issues, which has led to higher manufacturing costs reflecting in higher grocery store prices nationwide.
“Supermarket chains have been dealing with major supply chain issues the past two years. As a result, prices have been increasing. It’s not their fault,” Coney Island community leader Mario Caggiano told Brooklyn Paper. “They are already purchasing these products from the manufacturers at a very high cost.”
He added that the high cost of rent and lack of staff have also contributed to the rise in prices.
“Also factor in the high cost of rent along with the cost of staff and overhead,” Caggiano said. “All Fine Fare locations are co-ops. That means a small business owner has the one in Coney Island.”
While New York City appears to have made it past the darkest days of the pandemic, many small businesses are not yet past the finish line, due to continuous surges in new COVID variants. During the 2021 holiday — the busiest of some business’ year — 20 percent of owners said they were forced to close their doors to wait out the city’s intense Omicron uptick, and some 77 percent of businesses saw a reduction in their holiday sales as a result, according to surveys conducted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
And what Fine Fare is doing feels all too familiar to Chamber President and CEO Randy Peers, who told Brooklyn Paper that, between inflation and the pandemic, many business owners are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“There’s got to be a reasonable adjustment for [increases in consumer prices] and for product shortages, and that is to be understood,” Peers said. “But taking advantage of consumers and not following the law is just wrong and needs to be addressed.”
“There are global issues at work that we have no control over, that are impacting prices here locally,” he added. “The war in Ukraine is pushing up grain prices significantly because Ukraine was a big supplier of grain.”
While he’s certainly sympathetic to the difficulties facing his district’s small business owners, when it comes to Fine Fare, Kagan says he will continue to look out for his constituents, who are also just trying to make ends meet.
“I told [the store manager] that I will contact again Department of Consumer Affairs, media outlets, Mayor’s Office and will take all steps necessary to stop these unacceptable practices,” Kagan said online.