The opening of a full-service supermarket in New Cassel is being hailed as a first by residents, experts on hunger and officials who say the hamlet has critical food-access issues.
The 9,300-square-foot Ideal Food Basket is described as a touchstone to a community visioning process started in the early 2000s that sought new developments, such as a supermarket, pharmacy and community center.
"As long as I've known Prospect Avenue, there was never a supermarket here," said Shalesha Ross, 38, who lives nearby, as she perused sauerkraut and hot dogs on a recent Friday afternoon.
Experts say the development is key for the hamlet, where 17.5 percent of the people live in poverty, according to recent U.S. Census data. Residents say they often take cabs or taxis to supermarkets in neighboring communities, such as the Associated Supermarket on Old Country Road in Westbury, or relied on bodegas and convenience stores.
"It's a huge deal for a community where there was no access to good, fresh food," said Mary Ann Allison, who teaches media studies at Hofstra University and has researched the community. "Walking might be the choice in a poor neighborhood."
According to researchers from Feeding America, a hunger relief charity, nearly 200,000 Long Islanders are "food insecure."
"Truly, for those people that don't have anything more than a bicycle and have to walk, this is going to be a real benefit for them," Nassau County Legislator Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) said.
"It's been a long time coming," said Viviana Russell, a North Hempstead councilwoman from Westbury. She called the opening of the market, coupled with a youth-staffed farmer's market on Prospect Avenue, signs of progress.
Grants totaling $550,000 from the Town of North Hempstead's Community Development Agency, and a $350,000 loan, aided the property's acquisition, town officials said.
Some areas on Long Island have been labeled food deserts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency defines those as areas where people have difficulty accessing healthy, affordable food. Large clusters exist in Suffolk, experts say, with areas such as Mastic and Riverhead designated as having food-access issues.
Key for the market's survival, said Sarah Eichberg, director of community research for Adelphi University, is appealing to demographics. The Hispanic or Latino population in New Cassel, according to census data, is more than 50 percent.
"Just putting a supermarket down in a location that didn't have one isn't necessarily a recipe for success," she said. "Unless the food is attractive to consumers. It has to be a fit."
Amable Paulino, a co-owner of the New Cassel Ideal Food Basket, part of the America's Food Basket chain, said he saw promise in the neighborhood.
At the new market, a third of the groceries offered are internationally based and targeted toward Haitian, Caribbean and Hispanic communities, Dan Cabassa, chief executive of America's Food Basket, said.
"When the supermarket becomes the draw, consumers stop going away from the neighborhood, and they start staying within the community. "