Foodtown of Washington Heights Finds Place as Heart of the Community

Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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Since its opening, Foodtown of Washington Heights, Progressive Grocer's March 2018 Store of the Month, has formed a solid bond with the surrounding neighborhood.

“The store has been the focal point for several street events, with 160th Street – directly in front of the store – occasionally closed for vehicular traffic so the store can accommodate food trucks, demonstration/sample tables and live music, as a means to share, and give back to, the community,” notes John T. Derderian, president of Iselin, N.J.-based Allegiance Retail Services, a retail cooperative whose members operate 80-plus stores in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania under the Foodtown banner.

Says store owner Nasri Abed of these well-attended “block parties,” on which he’s been known to spend up to $70,000: “We have over 100 vendors … giving out free products.” Local representatives of New York’s Finest (police) are welcome guests at these neighborhood events, where giveaways have included bikes, school bags and books for kids, as well as gift cards for adults.

The location also provides a 10 percent discount for city workers and an everyday 5 percent discount for senior citizens – not just once a week like at other retailers – according to Abed, who makes plain his steadfast support for the community’s law enforcement, fire department and hospital.

“The community, they all love me here,” he asserts. “I’m like the mayor of this area.”

This level of connection with area residents is par for the course for an independently owned supermarket, according to Joe Fantozzi, VP-retail/member development at Allegiance, who believes that “the difference between us and a corporate store is we’re able to engage the community We’re able to support the Little League teams, so we create a generational process to the brand, so their kids, while they’re supporting Little League, they wind up shopping the store. It’s a whole process. The entrenchment into the community is part of what the message of the independent operator is, and [Nasri] really does it probably best in class for our whole co-op.”

Another key way that Foodtown of Washington Heights helps the neighborhood is by hiring from it. “Certainly, many of the associates are from the local community – it just makes sense,” observes Derderian. “The area is so densely populated – 170,000 people in 1 mile – that the opportunity to staff the store with a local workforce is achievable. The advantage is the short travel distance for your store team; customers who shop in the store often know the employees, and it helps to serve the community by employing and providing paychecks locally. A win-win.”

Read more about the March 2018 Store of the Month.