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Saltaire grocery won't reopen after Sandy

Interior of the Saltaire Market. (June 3, 2009)

Interior of the Saltaire Market. (June 3, 2009) Credit: NEWSDAY / KAREN WILES

Frank Whitney stood in front of a packed room at the Saltaire board meeting and poured his heart out to the people who will no longer be his customers.

"I've been a grocer since I got out of the service in 1945 and went into business, and since then I've been paying off mortgages," Whitney, 88, began Monday.

After being ravaged by superstorm Sandy, the Saltaire Market, established in 1915 and owned and operated by the Whitney family since 1988, won't open this summer.

And the family has put the market -- the only commercial property in the village -- up for sale after Sandy's wrath did more damage than their insurance would cover, Whitney said.

The store, which Whitney admitted was never fancy, has been condemned by the village, outgoing trustee Hugh O'Brien said, because it's uninhabitable and structurally unsound. The deck in front of the low-roofed, simple brown store has buckled in some places and bulged in others; the inside of the store is gutted.

The asking price, according to real estate agent Noel Feustel, for the market that encompasses nine parcels in the peaceful Fire Island village: $850,000.

The Whitneys have been trying to sell the store for years, Mayor Robert Cox said, with no success.

"I think they would love to sell it, and if they can sell it as is, they'd be happy to walk away and take their money," Cox said. "But the [real estate] market doesn't seem to think it's worth what they're asking for it. That's been the case for the last four or five years that they've been trying to sell it."

And this summer for the first time, village residents won't have a grocery -- they will have to travel to neighboring communities to shop.

Whitney on Monday called the Saltaire Market "the heart of the village," accusing the board of trustees of ignoring his family's plea for guidance in renovating and selling the store. Residents are irritated that the market is closed and that it's become an eyesore, in a village that has hustled to recover in time for summer. Some said renters lost interest in their homes as summer vacation spots when they found out there would be no market.

Despite rumors and complaints that the board is paving its way to buy the store, Cox said municipal ownership is "the last thing the village wants"

But if no potential buyers arise and the building deteriorates further, the village would have to step in and buy it, and find a private party to run it, he said.

"The second to last thing [the village wants] is to allow it to be an eyesore," Cox said.

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