This morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall hosted a panel to unveil new incentives at the city and state level in New York to retain and attract neighborhood grocery stores. Commercial district managers in urban neighborhoods are well aware of the challenges faced by grocery stores in urban neighborhoods–higher land costs, logistical difficulties, and thinner profit margins than other retail uses that compete for space. These new incentive programs, FRESH and the NY Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund, aim to make grocery store retention and attraction financially viable and thereby increase fresh food access in urban neighborhoods.

The creation of these programs was inspired by a recent study conducted for the Mayor’s Food Policy Taskforce, which found that nearly all NYC neighborhoods are under-served by supermarkets based on national standards. Additionally, some neighborhoods are acutely under-served and feature high instances of diet-related diseases as well as residents with limited mobility. The national standard is at least 3 square feet of grocery store retail per resident; no community district in Queens meets this hurdle.

On the city level, two types of incentives are available: financial incentives from the NYC Industrial Development Agency and zoning incentives from the Department of City Planning. Currently, the zoning incentives are only available in neighborhoods with the most acute need according to the study (Jamaica, Central Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan, and the South Bronx), while the financial incentives are available in distressed census tracts citywide. On the state level, the New York Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund provides a variety of construction and rehabilitation loans as well as some grants for supermarket operators and developers. This program is run by the Low Income Investment Fund and is based on the successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative.

To qualify for these incentives, the supermarket must fulfill the set of criteria that are outlined below. These incentives can be used both to attract new and renovating existing businesses. If you have a food retailer in your district that meets the space requirements, these programs may be a good resource to help them make adjustments and carry more fresh food options.

  • Provide a minimum of 6,000 square feet of retail space for a general line of food and nonfood grocery products intended for home preparation, consumption and utilization;
  • Provide at least 50 percent of a general line of food products intended for home preparation, consumption and utilization;
  • Provide at least 30 percent of retail space for perishable goods that include dairy, fresh produce, fresh meats, poultry, fish and frozen foods; and
  • Provide at least 500 square feet of retail space for fresh produce.