Our reporting on the closure of the New Utrecht Avenue Waldbaums after 37 years, and the supermarket’s subsequent sale to the Asian grocer Jmart, unearthed simmering anxieties about demographic changes in Bensonhurst. In some cases, comments on social media and our site turned explicitly hateful towards Asians.
Community Board 11 (CB11) officials condemned the racist rhetoric at yesterday’s monthly meeting. District Chair William Guarinello expressed in strong terms that, while he understood the frustration neighbors felt over the purchase of Waldbaums by Jmart, such remarks were unacceptable.
“I would like to say on behalf of the community board that we do not tolerate any sort of insensitive comments,” he said. “Especially the kind that I have heard about on social media and on petitions. Italians were not the first group here, before us was the Norwegians and before them the Dutch. All we can do as a community is talk to the owner about making sure that they assimilate into our community and make people feel comfortable shopping there for their essentials. We have to cut the rhetoric and reach across the aisle.”
When a neighbor expressed concerns about noise and construction debris at the supermarket site, Councilman Mark Treyger also weighed in, turning the focus to the 70 out-of-work Waldbaums workers.
“Demographic changes enrich our neighborhood,” said the councilman. “I appreciate the comments that the board has made on the issue. I will talk to anyone that has any problems with construction and noise. It is more pressing that the employees of the Walbaums found out about losing their jobs though the media rather than through the store.”
The Walbaums deal is so divisive, that some Chinese American neighbors say the vitriolic online response has exposed how their some of their typically polite non-Asian friends feel towards them.
Stanley Ng, a longtime Dyker Heights resident who serves on Community Education Council 20 (CEC 20), told us how a Facebook post (below) from his neighbor of 10 years effectively ended their friendship.
When Ng confronted her about the post and the term “FRIGGING ASIANS,” he says the woman first tried to justify her comments, and then just deleted the post.
“Well, on Facebook, nothing gets deleted forever,” said Ng.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Cohn.