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Elmont drugstore plan worries current tenants

Store owners and workers protest possible razing of

Store owners and workers protest possible razing of their strip mall to make way for a Walgreens. (Jan. 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A proposal to build a large new Walgreens in Elmont has Faheem Khan worried.

His convenience store and six other businesses in a small strip mall would be demolished to make way for the drugstore if the Town of Hempstead approves the plan. It would replace Khan's Top Food Mart, a spa, nail salon, hair salon, insurance office, restaurant and gold-seller with the third large chain drugstore within three blocks.

Some of the businesses in the 35-year-old shopping center at Meacham Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike have years left on their leases, owners said. Others recently renovated their shops, spending tens of thousands of dollars. Many of them said they're not sure they can afford to move.

"I'm very worried," said Khan, 46, who has owned Top Food Mart for 14 years. "We are left with no options to keep our small businesses here."

If approved, Walgreens would build a 13,824-square-foot store and lease the property for at least 20 years from property owner Clover Associates Llc, based in Carle Place.

Walgreens officials are seeking a variety of zoning variances from the Hempstead Town Board of Appeals. A public hearing about the proposal will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m.

"We certainly don't need -- in that part of town -- a box store," said Elmont resident Mariana Andersen, 70, who shops at the strip mall. "We need small stores. Once those stores are gone, they would be gone forever."

Property manager Jimmy Dalto said small shopping centers are becoming outdated and difficult to manage.

Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger said the Elmont site provides convenient space for a drive-through pharmacy and parking for customers. The store would create 25 to 30 jobs, he said. The shops in the center now employ about 20 people.

"Our research indicates that, like many areas of the country, demand for additional pharmacy services is growing here," Elfinger said.

County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) suggested government leaders "must pay proper attention to the impact on the community."

The Walgreens proposal comes as the town last month approved rezoning all of Hempstead Turnpike through downtown Elmont from the Queens border to Franklin Square. The zoning split the stretch of turnpike into four subdistricts with specific uses. The Walgreens site is within the shopping center subdistrict.

The proposal "may comply with" the rezoning plan, said town spokesman Michael Deery.

But Matthew Moschitta, whose wife's family has run the Nationwide Insurance branch office at the strip center since 1975, questioned whether the proposal would go against an Elmont revitalization plan goal to promote small businesses.

"You are basically taking the people you want to help out and thrive, and you are putting them on the street," he said.

Tenants said they have yet to learn whether they would be compensated for leases being broken or improvements made to their shops.

Olga Diaz said she opened her Latin American-themed Bonao Café in 2009 after borrowing more than $150,000 to make renovations and has eight years left on a lease.

Dalto said he couldn't discuss tenants' leases because they are confidential. As to whether tenants would be compensated, Dalto said, "I don't have an answer at this time. We haven't discussed it yet with Walgreens."

The board has 62 days from the hearing to make a decision on the zoning changes.

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