On the final days leading up to its closure, the shelves at the Gowanus Pathmark Store emptied fast. Once everything was gone on its last day, Sunday, Nov. 22, it was clear there would be a hole in the community where the low-cost grocery store had been.
Two days earlier, on Friday, Nov. 20, the management said everything had to and would go. The discount rate ranged between 40 to 60 percent, and a few shelves still had some products on them. By Sunday, sales had reached the 90 percent markdown level. Shelves were emptied. The few products that were left, including bottled soft drinks, canned products, frozen food, as well toiletries were organized—and rapidly mismatched— on tables and fridges along the checkout points.
Bill Blucher, a 52-year-old regular at the store, purchased 36 boxes, each containing 1,000 Pathmark plastic bags, for $3 per unit. Blucher said he was not aware the store was liquidating even the plastic bags, but seized the deal for a friend who owns a deli and normally buys 100 plastic bags for $10.
Some costumers approached the checkout with a pile of discounted DVD’s under their arms, while one carried a cart full of energy drinks, one of the few items still available in large numbers on Sunday afternoon. Employees attempted to sort out the remaining items scattered on the tables.
Curious shoppers on the hunt for a deal ventured into the store. Max, a 30-year-old occasional costumer who didn’t want his surname to be used, came to stock up on stationary and toiletries, “stuff that are usually overpriced,” he said.
Although he has only shopped at Pathmark three times, Max acknowledged the closing of the store would create a void in the market.
“You can’t just get a Diet Coke at Whole Foods,” he said. “Some things don’t come that cheap in other stores.” He echoed the concerns of residents who rely on the supermarket for affordable groceries.
The low-cost supermarket said in October it would be closing its doors after Manischevitz Family LLC, a real estate company, emerged as the winning bidder against ShopRite in the auction of the property. Pathmark’s parent company, A&P, filed for bankruptcy in July, announcing it would sell approximately 120 stores of the 296 it operates under various brand names.
The nearest supermarket of comparable size in Gowanus is Whole Foods on 3rd Av. and 3rd Street, but its prices are deemed inaccessible to many of the residents. Affordable alternatives include a Stop & Shop store on Atlantic Avenue, 2.1 miles away, and a Shoprite supermarket 3.8 miles from Pathmark, on McDonald Avenue.
Distance is an obstacle for residents who do not drive, or who rely on car services to go grocery shopping, a common practice in the neighborhood.
“If you don’t drive it’s expensive,” said Melissa Anceravige, an employee at Pathmark for 20 years and a longtime resident of Gowanus. Anceravige says she was charged $7 for a ride from her home in Gowanus to her local Pathmark, and she is expecting to spend double that amount to get to Atlantic Avenue.
By default, residents have been “forced to buy in small chain stores” such as C-town and Key Food, Anceravige said, which have a total of six locations in the Gowanus/Park Slope area. These alternatives, however, do not seem to do the trick, as the variety is limited and the prices are steeper. You could spend $100, but “those same $100 are going to allow you to buy half of what you could buy here,” Anceravige said.
Despite the assertion that Pathmark was the sole low-cost supermarket, regular costumers say prices had been steadily rising.
“I used to enjoy coming,” Katie Taylor, a long-term costumer, said. “The prices were decent.” Taylor observed that within the last six months, the clientele had dropped considerably.
According to Ed Machado, the store’s general manager, since July the number of costumers per hour has dropped from 13,000 to 8,000, a drop he said was caused by the interruption of the store’s published circulars and their inability to offer the same sales.
It is unclear what will replace the supermarket that has been serving a community for more than 30 years. “It should be a supermarket for the community, for the people,” Machado, who began working for Pathmark in 1975, said.
The future for employees also remains uncertain, as employees are expected to receive only 54 percent of severance pay, and only 20 percent of them have another job lined up, Anceravige said.
Neighboring businesses have also expressed concern and disappointed with the bankruptcy’s court decision to grant the lease to a real estate developer instead of Shoprite, which would have replaced the supermarket.
“I’m worried because it’s going to affect how much we are making,” said Lana Chavez, a 19-year-old who works at a Dunkin Donuts store within the same commercial complex.
For both the workers and the residents, the closing of Pathmark represents above all an emotional closure. Chavez, who grew up in Park Slope, remembers Pathmark as the go-to supermarket of her childhood, and now as a working companion.
“People here at Pathmark, they are like family,” she said. “It’s hard to see them go.”