L.E.S. Pathmark pharmacy closes, but contingency plans soften the blow

BY SAM SPOKONY | In an unexpected turn that left Lower Manhattan community leaders dismayed, the Pathmark pharmacy at 237-239 Cherry St. closed on Tues., Oct. 23, two months earlier than the company previously said it would.

A spokesperson for A&P, which owns Pathmark, declined to answer why the pharmacy was closed prematurely and why the company gave no warning to the residents, most of whom are low-income senior citizens who have relied on its services for decades.

Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, explained that, during a phone call last week, an attorney for A&P had told him that the pharmacy would be closing due to “practical and financial considerations.”

The pharmacy had been located in a separate building from the Pathmark supermarket (at 227 Cherry St.), which is still scheduled to close on Dec. 28.

While A&P relinquished the lease on the 30-year-old supermarket building last month to make way for a luxury residential development, the building that formerly housed the pharmacy is owned by the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. But that apparently has no bearing on the outcome of the situation.

Residents throughout the neighborhood, especially those from its heavily populated public housing projects, have rallied against Pathmark’s impending closure since A&P announced on Sept. 28 that it had sold the lease. But the pharmacy’s closed doors appear to have drained all community optimism, which grew after the area’s elected officials recently threw their support behind outraged and worried residents.

On Mon., Oct. 22, the A&P spokesperson said in a statement that the company would attempt to assuage neighborhood concerns by making all of the shuttered pharmacy’s prescription records available to customers at a nearby Rite Aid pharmacy, located at 408 Grand St., beginning later this week.

Two Bridges has also engaged in its own contingency plan to help unprepared residents deal with the sudden loss of their pharmacy. The council enlisted the help of Mannings Pharmacy, located in Chinatown’s Confucius Plaza, which has begun delivering prescriptions to elderly tenants of 80 and 82 Rutgers Slip who are unable to walk to the Rite Aid or any other drugstore.

“I feel that we’ve done the best we could,” Papa said over the phone.

As the situation develops, he and Two Bridges hope to convince A&P executives to run a shuttle bus from their neighborhood to another Pathmark location — either in Harlem or Gowanus — in order to further aid residents who need access to medication or fresh, affordable groceries.

During a conversation Papa had with A&P Chief Executive Officer Sam Martin on Mon., Oct. 22, Papa brought up the shuttle idea and the ongoing request for the company to ensure that any new development on the Cherry Street site will include a new supermarket-pharmacy combination that matches Pathmark’s affordability and quality.

While Papa said that Martin expressed admiration for the work Two Bridges has done in support of Pathmark and the neighborhood as a whole, he noted that the C.E.O. did not give definite answers to any of his requests and said he would respond at a later date after consulting with his colleagues.

It is now clear that initial hopes of a grassroots effort to stop Pathmark’s closure have deflated. But even as the end of the cherished supermarket looms, Papa explained that, in his opinion as a veteran community organizer, the time for angry protests is over.

“We have to keep up pressure for an affordable supermarket in the new building, but we also have to develop a better relationship with [A&P],” he said. “There’s just no use in keeping up the rancor, when a constructive relationship might allow us to get back some of the valuable services we could otherwise lose forever.”

Before ending their phone conversation, Papa, who is hoping for at least the latter request to be fulfilled, proposed to meet with Martin in person sometime before Thanksgiving in order to further discuss the future prospects for Two Bridges residents.

Meanwhile, the five elected officials who sent a joint letter to Martin on Fri., Oct. 5, in which they expressed grave concern for residents who will struggle without their neighborhood Pathmark, have not yet received a reply.