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Black pol’s gentrification claim: ‘White people don’t eat the way we do’

Lights out: The days are numbered for the Key Food on Lafayette Avenue, as the owner prepares to build an apartment building in its place.
The Brooklyn Paper
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An old-school supermarket that will soon close in Clinton Hill needs to be replaced with a similar joint, and not some fancy-schmancy shop for white gentrifiers, a state legislator proclaimed this week.

The Key Food on Lafayette Avenue between Saint James Place and Classon Avenue is set to close within the next two months in order to make way for an eight-story residential building. The landlord said he will try to bring a supermarket back once the project is finished, and state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Clinton Hill) demanded he make sure he finds an operator that will continue serving neighbors of color, who she claimed have different grocery needs than whites.

“Supermarkets are an important part of the community. It’s an important amenity, especially for black and brown communities,” she said. “When you’re talking about a white community, it can be a little boutique, because white people don’t eat the way we do.”

Montgomery did not offer further information on what she thinks the white diet consists of, and her provocative remark went un-commented on at a heated town-hall meeting in the Ryerson Towers, a Mitchell Lama co-op complex, convened to update neighbors about the store’s closing and its pending redevelopment. Others in the predominately African-American crowd of about 100 saw the loss of the supermarket in racial terms, blaming it on gentrification and saying it is cutting off a lifeline for seniors who, because of their race, developers don’t care about.

“If our skin were any other color, this would not be happening,” Roseanne Lynn said.

Clinton Hill was 51 percent African-American and 41 percent white as of the 2010 Census, a marked shift from 2000, when the figures were 72 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The average rent for a two-bedroom has hovered around $3,000 since the fall of 2013, but the cost of new development in the neighborhood has more than doubled since the end of 2011, according to MNS real estate.

Richard Grobman, who owns the property, told the assembled residents that he hoped to have a supermarket open in the ground floor of the completed development. But he also said he could not guarantee that it would happen.

“We certainly appreciate that a supermarket is important to the neighborhood here. And we are endeavoring to have a supermarket here in the final development,” he said. “We’re not obligated to, but we’re certainly trying. I can’t guarantee it though.”

It is in his interest to give the people what they want, he said.

“I hope that I’m smart enough to choose an operator that can provide the community what it needs,” he said. “Because if I don’t, I’m going to have a big vacant store.”

Ryerson Towers residents said that other grocery stores, including a C-Town two blocks away on Taaffe Place, are too far for seniors to get to.

“Closing that store is just crazy,” said Dennis Williams, who goes shopping at Key Food with his elderly mother. “You haven’t taken us or the seniors into consideration at all.”

Public Advocate Letitia James, who lives nearby and patronizes the Key Food, said the distance to the other grocery stores is too much for oldsters.

“I can walk to Myrtle or Dekalb, but the vast majority of these residents cannot,” she said.

Grobman’s family has owned the property for 50 years and used to operate a grocery store at the site called Dan’s Supreme, a chain of supermarkets his family still owns. He is set to retain partial ownership of the property after its development through a joint agreement with Slate Property Group.

The building is supposed to include 110 rental apartments, underground parking, and ground floor retail, according David Schwartz, a principal of Slate.

He said the group will pursue a tax abatement that would set aside a fifth of the units as below-market rate. A small doctor’s office is also planned in the space.

The retail portion is planned to be built in a way conducive to attracting a supermarket, even though building it differently would be more lucrative, Schwartz said.

“We could make a lot more money by dividing it up into smaller stores,” Schwartz said. “But we listened to the community express a demand for a supermarket.”

At the town hall, residents were also angry over the short notice for the store’s shuttering, and asked the pols present why they did not know sooner. The site’s zoning allows for the project to be built without special permission, and does not require public hearings or political input to move forward.

James said she heard about the closing the way everybody did — while shopping for cereal.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill) said the process is broken.

“I’m baffled that you don’t know more about what this project entails,” she said. “We’re working everyday in the Council to transform the legislation that makes a development like this possible.”

James had a different take.

“He owns private property, and he’s saying, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want with it,’ ” she said. “We don’t live in a communist country. This is capitalism.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
There is so much real racism in the world. Building homes for people is not quite it.
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:50 pm
bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
You got to understand that these are old people and old black people who fear being priced out. Its not like they can go out and get a job easily.
Feb. 24, 2015, 3:07 pm
Jim from Clinton Hill says:
This is so disappointing it's beyond words. I've lived a block away from this supermarket for twenty years. The neighborhood I decided to call home after attending Pratt is now mostly gone. The demographic change is shocking. The new people in the hood see it a piece of clay that needs to be molded to their likeness and not a neighborhood that has existed for over a hundred years without them. The area is over crowded, they've shut down the best parts of Fort Greene park... The area this grocery store is in is in dire need of more stores that provide essentials and produce, not less. The supermarket on Myrtle has been closed for how many years because of similar construction? How long will this construction last? Years? This is awful for community.
Feb. 24, 2015, 4:25 pm
Mike from Kingsbridge says:
I'm Black and I'm offended - sorry to the white community for the words of this racist.
Feb. 24, 2015, 5:53 pm
avoter from Clinton Hill says:
The extraordinary, mind-blowing incompetence and idiocy our elected officials is stunning. I shop at the Waverly Ave Associated (a perfectly fine store btw) and see a diverse population of white and black people. Where on earth does this moron get the concept that people of different races don't buy the same food? There is an Associated 3.5 blocks away. The new Associated being built on Mrytle is 2 blocks away. Key Food on Fulton and St. James 4 or 5 blocks away. I'm sorry you're loosing the grocery store thats directly outside your dammed apartment...but c'mon. The real problem is looser politicians like Montgomery and Cumbo who will fight new housing being built anywhere...gentrification is housing prices going up because nobody can build new housing as a result of BOZO politicians like Montgomery and Cumbo!!!
Feb. 24, 2015, 5:54 pm
Epiphany from Ex-Brooklyn says:
Well, Velmanette Montogomery won't shop there. She sucks off more taxpayer money for her meals and lodging than many most any other New York State legislators in the state (and most of her constituents). Her response when asked about it? "“I’m not talking to you about that. Bye.”

See link to: "High on the hog: Brooklyn pol’s 77G travel bill" below:

http://nypost.com/2013/01/30/high-on-the-hog-brooklyn-pols-77g-travel-bill/

Not to mention, she's on a list of politicians targeted in a corruption scandal. See link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/nyregion/court-to-name-officials-recorded-in-corruption-inquiry.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Another questionable Brooklyn politician frothing trash out both sides of the mouth.

People in Brooklyn pay massive taxes and put up with so much government corruption and incompetence. The borough deserves better!
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:12 pm
Micaela from Fort Greene says:
I was born and raised in NYC, I've lived in Fort Greene for 15 years, and that is my go-to supermarket. And I'm as white as they come. I cook dinner for my family most nights and I always loved that supermarket. They have a real live fish guy and decent selection of fresh fish, plus a great fruit and veggie section. I always saw people of all races shopping there. What, exactly, does this woman thing we white people eat?
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:49 pm
Thomas from Ft. Greene says:
I was at that meeting and this article is so out of context I think Montgomery should sue!

The owner just kept saying he couldn't say what kind of supermarket would go in there, over and over, which sounded a lot like he's going high-priced high end. Senator Montgomery asked that the selection be in line with what the people shopping at the Key Food want. Like Tish James said, "We don't need a Whole Foods--you know what they say, Whole Foods means whole check!"

And I notice the reporter gave that comment a pass, but found time to talk to this Schwartz guy who didn't even come to the meeting. Big old hatchet job from this paper that cheers for Marty Golden and goes after Montgomery!

And look, you teased that Epiphany nut job out again! Or is he/she on staff?
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:52 pm
White constituent from Carroll Gardens says:
The closing of affordable supermarkets is an issue in other parts of Senator Montgomery's district. The closing of the Met Food on Smith Street has been a similar inconvenience for a good number of my neighbors and not everyone can or even wants to shop at Whole Foods. In response to the Whole Foods opening some of the smaller specialized shops in Carroll Gardens have raised their prices figuring if Whole Foods can get that price so can they.

I know that many elderly people on fixed incomes, public housing residents, and working families shopped at the Met Food and it's too bad that our politicians did not give that store's closing and sale.
Feb. 24, 2015, 8:36 pm
Queens Guy from Queens says:
After Montgomery's name surfaced in the Shirley Huntley 2013 probe, you dingbats in Brooklyn still reelected her last year because she had the (D) next to her name on the ballot? Wake up and read the news, people!
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:05 pm
Todd from Clinton Hill says:
Hey, Queenie, take a look at your own boro first!

And you may have noticed she was mentioned once for showing up on a tape made by Shirley Huntley, who had told everyone she had broken her ankle. Montgomery brought her soup! And the prosecutor headline hunter thought it was funny!

Is he from Queens too? Maybe something in the water there
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:41 pm
oatka from Manhattan's Chelsea District says:
I’m sick and tired of that subset of people who go out of their way to segregate themselves from white society and then complain because people think they are different.

‘White people don’t eat the way we do’. God, I’d have loved it if some white person got up and said, “What are you talking about? We like watermelon and fried chicken too!”

And then watch heads explode.
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:57 pm
Marty from Bay Ridge says:
If a white politician said this about african americans I dont think this story would only be in a local paper.
Feb. 24, 2015, 11:24 pm
Jack Lalane from Cloud 9 says:
Senator Montgomery obviously knows what she is talking about. From up here its clear shes never missed a meal.
Feb. 25, 2015, 12:26 am
Schellie Hagan from Clinton Hill says:
I'm glad Matthew Perlman was able to attend the meeting. He's a fine reporter and his report on the event is thorough and accurate.

I was there, too, and can vouch that Mr. Perlman quotes Sen. Montgomery word perfectly. That being so, the context is missing: Her words were an amusing turn on how different people grocery shop, continuing with, "We buy in bulk." Everyone laughed.

Senator Montgomery has been re-elected and re-elected because she represents all of us. The fondness these days for being offended as much as possible, for turning over every remark in the hope of finding an insult is practiced in the ultimate hope of forcing the offending party into a public apology.

Sen. Montgomery has nothing to apologize for or backtrack from.

I think I'm the only conservative in Clinton Hill and I am of the white persuasion. I've lived here since the early 1980s -- when Key Food was Dan's -- and have enthusiastically voted for Velmanette Montgomery every single election all those years, not because I share her positions on everything but because she's a for-real progressive, not another swaggering, swindling liberal hack like so many in this bluebluenlueblue city and state of ours.

Sen Montgomery was falsely fingered in the Shirley Huntley scandal and she had the class to say nothing then, no matter the nattering in the press and the inveigling for a statement.

I hope and expect she'll let this kerfluffle go answered as well. Political correctness deserves silence. At all times, at this time from Sen Montgomery.
Feb. 25, 2015, 12:50 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
The needs/wants of any neighborhood change over time. We no longer have photo developing stores or video rental shops. Just because this supermarket once was there, doesn't mean it's there forever. Ignoring the nonsensical and racist nature of her comment - a neighborhood changes or not because of demand and societal shifts. Artifically keeping private businesses in place won't really affect that much. It's also no politician's concern or right to try and socially manipulate a neighborhood to the detriment of any of it's residents. Whether the minority group is of any color or creed, no politician should come out in favor of a policy with the intention of promoting one group over another.

Regarding her boutique comment - does she really mean that she would promote a chain business over something locally run and owned?
Feb. 25, 2015, 6:27 am
Brad from Bklyn Hts says:
Always so nice to hear the wisdom of Bay Ridge!

When a respected long time legislator who is never covered by this paper owned by the NY Post (that would be this article in the Brooklyn Paper) you know exactly the kind of low brow journalism you're going to get, and boy! did you guys deliver on this!

The comments of people at the meeting make it clear whatever comment was made was HUMOR defusing a tense situation. But the reporter knows what his paper wants, and slime sells, so just ignore the uncomfortable facts, drop some phrases here or there, slap an outrageous headline on it, and job well done.

And what a bunch of racist superior trolls making comments! "I'm white and I'm offended!" Well I'm white and you embarass me! This is a great lady you're dragging through mud!
Feb. 25, 2015, 8:51 am
Steve from Ft. Greene says:
For an example of decent journalism, see Senator Montgomery's comments to CBS2. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/24/brooklyn-lawmaker-apologizes-for-white-people-dont-eat-the-way-we-do-remark/

Glad she didn't waste her time with this rag
Feb. 25, 2015, 9:10 am
Spinbuster from NYC says:
Steve from Ft. Green and Brad from Brooklyn heights, what are you, the damage control squad? The quote above was complete. The CBS article is nothing but contrition, and the "it was just a joke" double standard is pathetic: did you give Justine Sacco or Michael Richards the same benefit of the doubt?

There is nothing "funny" about a state senator using racist remarks to defuse a tense meeting. This is a corrupt public "servant" showing her true colors. Face reality already!
Feb. 25, 2015, 9:24 am
Steve from Ft. Greene says:
Where do you get off calling her corrupt? Get specific with your accusations! That is slander and you think you can stay anonymous about it? Think again! Everybody's ID can be revealed in court papers.

You clearly don't know this woman, but we sure have a pretty good bead on you!
Feb. 25, 2015, 10:53 am
avoter from Cliton Hill says:
Velmanette isn't corrupt. She is too lazy to be corrupt. Being on the take kinda implies showing up in Albany and actually doing something to earn you're ill-gotten money. She prefers to do as little as possible and feed off the taxpayers.
Feb. 25, 2015, 11:08 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
She meant healthier and in smaller quantity. It was a compliment!
Feb. 25, 2015, 1:24 pm
Luetta Payne from Clinton Hill says:
I have done some research on the subject of Supermarket closings; and I believe the problem is deeper than first glance. Many in our little Community are concerned about this Supermarket, but take a second look at other neighborhoods and you will find that these store closings are happening in communities of color more than ever. I watched the effect of the Harlem Pathmark on 125th St. Close. I watched the Supermarket on Smith and Baltic, in the Gowanus Community close its' doors, then the Supermarket on Myrtle Ave. So I checked on line and discovered that this is happening in many Urban Communities in the U.S. not just in Clinton Hill. I feel something very insidious is going on and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. My question is, if this is a plot, then what would be their goal in not providing a basic service like food supply. Please think in terms of "Katrina," when the community did not have a way out they perished, and no one came to help. THINK
Feb. 25, 2015, 2:44 pm
J from Clinton Hill says:
I agree with Montgomery's underlying message. We need to be totally honest with who this new housing is targeted towards; hipsters, richer tenants, etc. In williamsburg there is the stretch of Bedford ave where all you'll find is speciality boutiques and organic food. All expensive. There are tons of housing projects by that KeyFood. They rely on places like KeyFood to eat. Real people with real jobs don't live a charmed life.
Feb. 25, 2015, 2:58 pm
Linda J from Clinton Hill says:
I was on another site where comments were left and one particular commentor argued with everyone, calling black people out of their name, saying that we destroy stores and should go back to Africa; it was terrible to think that this kind of thinking is still so prevalent although I've always known it was. Miss Montgomery maybe should have worded her comment differently because the store is for everyone in the neighborhood, not just one group. But we need to seriously think about what is really going on here. Who is looking out for us? We vote religiously and pay taxes in this area. Why aren't our interests being upheld? We all know how former mayor Bloomberg felt about the poorer communities. We need reoresentatives for ALL the people not just one group and this supermarket was for everyone. It's a sin to have it demoslished to satisfy the propheteers. God help us all.
Feb. 25, 2015, 3:27 pm
Spinbuster says:
"Where do you get off calling her corrupt? Get specific with your accusations!"

http://nypost.com/2013/01/30/high-on-the-hog-brooklyn-pols-77g-travel-bill/
Feb. 25, 2015, 3:48 pm
Nathan Tempey (Brooklyn Paper) says:
To the "owned by the New York Post" point I'll note that we aren't. More information is here:

http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/37/26/all-cng-sold-2014-06-27-bp_37_26.html

As far as the notion that we don't cover state Sen. Montgomery, that's absurd, as a brief look through our archive will show. And of course, we had the story when others didn't because we covered the event she was speaking at.
Feb. 25, 2015, 4:15 pm
Tom from Clinton Hill says:
So you're not owned by the Post anymore. Now tell us how proud you are of out of context selective reporting and judgmental inflammatory headlines.

And to think this rag was up for a Pulitzer under the original owners! Then came Ratner, Murdoch, and now whoever
Feb. 26, 2015, 6:20 am
Zawadi from Bed-Stuy says:
All politicians have their flaws. Every last single one of them. Because humans are flawed. It's not a color thing. And why would they go with this headline? Do people even care anymore about responsible journalism?... To they care how this sort of twisted focus impacts race relations, overall? C'mon, we all have to live in these neighborhoods together. The story should be about the grocery closing and how people are really concerned about the effects. That one commenter was right: These papers hardly pay attention to any of the pols of color (nor the GOOD work they do) unless they can report on a scandal or ruffle people's racist feathers.
Feb. 26, 2015, 6:43 am
Mark from Clinton Hill says:
This is my primary place to buy groceries. I've lived a block away for 6 years. I'm white and eat the same dahm food as everyone else I'm pretty sure. I still don't understand how zoning prevents any sort of community discussion with this. Someone pockets are getting lines and it's basically in the interest of one property owner
Feb. 26, 2015, 3:53 pm
Mark from Maspeth says:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all hate racism, but where's the birth certificate, and Obama doesn't love America, and I don't hear any of you outraged "I'm white and offended" people saying a d*** thing about any of that. No, but a black female politician tries to lighten up a tense crowd of her own neighbors and you take off on your white high horse and ignore the truth that over a dozen people who were at the meeting produced to stick with the racist slant of this newspaper! Good job! Real white of you!
Feb. 26, 2015, 8:07 pm
mike24611 says:
Everyone is commenting on the store closing, what about the " white people don't eat like we do " remark? If that was reversed, al sharpton and his army of shake down artists would be all over it. But for some reason, it's ok that she says it? Why do we even bother anymore?
Feb. 26, 2015, 10:07 pm
Mark from Maspeth says:
Oh, Mark, you poor thing! I'm sure you try sooo hard!
There is no more racism by white people, especially newspaper editors or reporters! Kongrats, Kool Kids!
Feb. 27, 2015, 12:15 am
BrooklynDweller from Williamsburg says:
If you're left unsatisfied by the dialogue rampant with aggressively ignorant claims espoused by some of the local residents here and the low-level politicians that pander to said ignorance, take a look at this article for a thoughtful discussion of public policy that is actually relevant to the discussion (hint it doesn't involve racism, assertions that we should take a group vote on who rents private property, or conspiracy theories about politicians and private developer's "secret deals" - shocker):

http://newyorkyimby.com/2015/02/how-the-department-of-city-planning-turned-clinton-hill-into-a-food-desert.html
Feb. 27, 2015, 10:19 am
Mark from Maspeth says:
Golly! Darn it all, you're terrific to point all this out to us ignorant folk!

Although I notice that the superior author couldn't resist calling the Senator's quote "race baiting", or even to complete the quote to give full context, not unlike this rag!

We're so lucky you all are here to make this a better place! Gosh it all!
Feb. 27, 2015, 1:04 pm
jackie from Marseille says:
White people don’t eat the way we do

Wow this is sooo ——ing racist , why when a —— say something racist no one react ? this —— would obviously kill whites if she could , she's a danger maybe have mental illness , she need a psy.
Feb. 27, 2015, 1:30 pm
Mark from Maspeth says:
This crowd just gets prettier and prettier, don't it? Ask yourself: are YOU a jackie from Marseille?
Feb. 27, 2015, 3:39 pm
David says:
So, how do white people eat? I buy my groceries from a supermarket, usually the same ones that black people in my neighborhood shop at.
Feb. 27, 2015, 4:49 pm
anne corcoran from out of state says:
My mother ( now deceased),was born in Fort Greene in 1923 on Washington Ave. It was mostly an all white neighborhood then. So the skin color of the people has changed back and forth I guess,but the neighborhood is beautiful and everyone there should be happy to live there and try and preserve it for the benefit of all the residents. I am white,I wish I could return to Brooklyn,but cannot afford to now. Be proactive and try to get a grocer there who will meet the needs of the people.
March 3, 2015, 1:39 pm
Allison from Clinton Hill says:
I am a whiter shade of pale and I am PANICKING over the closure of this food store. This is where I shop for my family. Where else in walking distance is there to go to? There are no other affordable options. What exactly does this dummy think we white folk eat that is so different??? Are we all off in the back of towncars to restaurants each night? (Clearly she is not aware that white people vote as well. She's not getting mine next election.) This Key Food is always crowded, with a varying demographic of people; black, white, asian, hispanic, elderly, young. This is an absolute sin that it is closing.
March 3, 2015, 9:30 pm
Mark from Maspeth says:
Allison, did you skip all the comments about how the editor left off the end of the senator's comment which showed it was a joke? And I guess you didn't read the complete articles in the Post and Daily News.

Or maybe you're just happy to jump on the White People Yelling Racist train?
March 4, 2015, 2:17 pm
Kristina from Clinton Hill says:
I'm really surprised more people haven't pointed out that the Associated on Waverly is 0.3 miles away, a 6 minute walk. I understand that this change is symptomatic of the greater changes happening all over Brooklyn, and I completely respect how that's upsetting to longtime residents, but to claim that it will render Clinton Hill a food desert is a real overstatement. I live across the street from the Key Foods, and yes, in a perfect world I would continue to have a supermarket 20 paces from my front door - but the neighborhood has plenty of other options (including the Greene Hill Food Coop which is actually more affordable than Key Foods).
March 8, 2015, 9:09 am
YDC from Clinton Hill says:
They are pricing the neighborhood out with expensive 'organic' market. The ordinary grocery supermarkets are being forced out. I understand that the neighborhood has changed but poor and lower middle class cannot afford to have ordinary supermarkets disappear.

The Associate supermarket is as tiny as a grocery store and way overpriced. The Met (now Key Food) on Fulton and St James Pl is now way overpriced. This Key Food took up the slack.
April 13, 2015, 10:19 am
No one from Manhattan says:
"...did you skip all the comments about how the editor left off the end of the senator's comment which showed it was a joke?"

Sure, just like when George Allen improvised a "gibberish" term during the Virginia Senate race.
May 8, 2015, 7:52 am

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