Key Food owner willing to share space with Target

A rendering of the outer facade of the planned Astoria Target. Image via Target.

A rendering of the outer facade of the planned Astoria Target. Image via Target.

By Jonathan Sperling

The owner of an Astoria Key Food wants the grocery store to remain in the vibrant community it has called home for nearly 50 years — even if it means sharing the space with a Target.

Lawrence Mandel, chairman of MAN-Dell Food Stores, Inc., told the Eagle that he’d like the 31st St. Key Food to stay at its current location, despite the landlord’s plan to evict the grocery store and redevelop the building to make way for a Target. Property owner Ditmars 31st Street Associates LLC has yet to renew Key Food’s lease after signing a memorandum with Target in March. Jenel Management serves as the building’s landlord.

Mandel’s Key Food may face an even bigger problem: The memo with Target includes a restrictive clause that prevents the development of a pharmacy, convenience store or supermarket measuring 1,000 square feet or more within the same property, according to a section of the memo obtained by the Eagle.

“If we could get our lease renewed at a market rate, and if the community could live with that type of density and very intense use of that property, we’re realistic about it,” Mandel said. “If they want Target upstairs and we remain where we are, that is a realistic compromise.”

Astoria residents like Jesse Cerrotti say they want to save the 31st Street Key Food, which is threatened by a planned Target. The store owner said he is willing to share the space with Target.  Eagle  photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Astoria residents like Jesse Cerrotti say they want to save the 31st Street Key Food, which is threatened by a planned Target. The store owner said he is willing to share the space with Target. Eagle photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Target spokesperson Jacqueline DeBuse confirmed that the company is planning to open a “small-format” store in the 47,000-square-foot space by 2022. Target also plans to build a store in Jackson Heights by 2020, she said. Small-format stores are about one-third the size of a regular “big-box” Target store, and adjust the merchandise to meet the needs of local residents, DeBuse said.

“Target operates four stores in Queens County and we know there is still an opportunity to meet the needs of local guests with additional locations,” DeBuse added.

Mandel told the Eagle that the landlord’s agreement with Target came as a surprise considering that the store has always been a “model tenant.” He said that he didn’t find out that the building owner had given Target the lease until he read it in the news.

“I read it in the Astoria Post in April of 2018 and it was my first awareness of the fact that Jenel [the management company] signed a lease with Target,” Mandel said. “And then we found out in the lease they were given a restrictive covenant against a supermarket. We found that out and we were shocked to see that happen without the courtesy of a call.”

A source familiar with the deal told the Eagle that the details of the restrictive lease are common throughout the industry, in order to ensure that the business is successful at that site. Restrictive leases do sometimes get altered down the road to accommodate other businesses, the source added.

Community members and Key Food employees have spoken out in favor of the store staying put. Earlier this month, they joined forces with local leaders and officials from UFCW Local 1500 to rally against Target’s potential arrival. In addition to the loss of fresh food, the Key Food closure would eliminate between 60 and 100 union jobs.

Target employees are not unionized.

“Thank God we have a union backing it up. Thank God we have a company that cares about us. We don’t want to lose this Key Food. It’s very, very important. We have great employees that are working hard to serve everybody here well,” said Key Food Deli Manager Laura Stevenson at the rally.

“We want to take care of this community the way it should be taken care of. Target won’t do that for you,” Stevenson added. “We do it for you.”

Jenel Management did not respond to the Eagle’s request for comment as of press time Tuesday. Michael Hirschhorn, the corporation’s president, told The City that negotiations for a long-term lease with Key Food broke off months ago because the store ditched a deal to occupy 25,000 square feet of space.

This story is part of a continuing series on Target’s plans in Queens.