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By Walter Elliott
EAST ORANGE- About the only thing clear about the status of the Western Beef Supermarket here at 1A Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. as of deadline are that it, after 34 years' service, has closed to the public 5 p.m. Sept. 8 - and with no intention of immediate reopening.
"Local Talk" learned, by a pair of Facebook posts, of Sept 8 being Western Beef's westernmost store closing Sunday at 5:30 p.m. - but it was already too late to get inside, let alone shop.
Six of the supermarket's employees, who remained on the parking lot in the 7 p.m. sunset, said that the store had closed at 5 p.m. - well ahead of Westernbeef.com's usual 9 p.m. closing. They told "Local Talk" that someone had bought the 30,000 square foot building and the 2.34-acre lot.
Should such a sale had happened, said City Tax Assessor Romal Bullock 1 p.m. Tuesday, it must have been very recent.
"I've had no deed transfer papers reach my desk yet," said Bullock in his City Hall office. "It has also not reached the desk of the County Registrar (Dana Rone, in Newark)."
Without the supposed sale recorded, it remains unknown whether the purported new owner will want to just move in - or go before the board of adjustment or planning board to modify or replace the building.
"Local Talk" has meanwhile seen an average of three trucks parked on its western and eastern lots Monday and Tuesday.
Two of the trucks, including one in Western Beef colors, were straight panel delivery models. The Western Beef truck was sharing an eastern loading dock with a semi tractor-trailer. It is presumed that they had arrived to move inventory to at least one of Western Beef's other 25 stores in Lower New York State.
The market's main entrance was open - but footed by a large handmade cardboard "Closed" sign - Tuesday.
Western Beef, of Queens, N.Y.'s Ridgewood section, gave no notice to the public that they were closing the East Orange store. Its website, as of 4 p.m. Sept. 10, still lists "1A Main St. East Orange" among its 29 current stores and another 11 "Coming Soon."
"Local Talk," at 3 p.m. Sept. 5, found nothing unusual there while delivering its copies. many people, both lay public and public officials, expressed surprise of the closing.
The KLM Laundromat, which shares 2,000 sq. ft. of the building's King Boulevard frontage, rose no eyebrows when it closed early this winter.
"I was shocked," said Fourth Ward Councilwoman Tameika Garrett-Moore Sept. 9. "It leaves a big hole for neighborhood residents."
"I am hoping that another supermarket will be coming there soon," added Fourth Ward Councilman Casim L. Gomez, Sr.
Western Beef's closing leaves a food desert among East Orange's Teen Street neighborhood and Newark's Roseville-Fairmount sections. One would have to go a mile's radius for a supermarket, corner stores notwithstanding.
Bullock did recall that there was a sale of the property last year. It was an in-house or lateral title transfer from Western Beef Properties to Cactus 1A New Main LLC April 29, 2018 for $10.
Western Beef, whose first supermarket opened in New York City in 1980, tends to re-open 10,000-to-30,000 sq. ft. supermarkets in inner-city and/or diverse neighborhoods better-known grocers have left. Except for three stores in Boca Raton, Fla., Western Beef and its companies have concentrated on the Five Boroughs, Long Island and Westchester County, N.Y.
Western Beef's last, if not only, New Jersey location started life as a Metro or Victory Chrysler-Plymouth car dealership 1973-81. Its original address was 1 New Main St. - to reflect both Main Street's I-280-related 1965 realignment and the neighborhood's urban renewal redevelopment zone. (The Rallye Racquet Club, now Von Rohr Equipment Corp., across New Main, was also in that zone.)
The supermarket was first named Western Seafood when it moved into the vacant showroom and garage in 1985. Although it renamed itself Western Beef the next year, there has always been a "New Main Fish" store subdivision within.
Western "We Know the Neighborhood" Beef leased out its Main Street storefront for Main Laundromat in 2000 - which is how the supermarket got its "1A" address.
The supermarket puts some of its property in Cactus Holdings, Inc. Cactus Holdings, in turn, has Booth Capital to market some of its current property to attract renters and/or buyers.
Booth has listed 25 current Western Beef Supermarkets among its listings. Some of those supermarkets are older, less than 30,000 sq. ft. buildings. Western Beef is developing newer 10-15,000 sq. ft. markets.
The East Orange store, as "1A Dr. MLK Blvd." is Booth's only New Jersey listing.
A Sept. 10 e-mail question to Booth Capital remains unanswered as of press time. It is also not known whether a Western Beef Market in New Jersey, let alone in the "Local Talk" area, will be opened.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - Some members of the New York-New Jersey media received a hard lesson late Aug. 27 that a public invitation made by Mayor Ras Baraka's office to City Hall here may not necessarily include them.
The latest episode in the mayor's relationship with the press began with the very last paragraph of an Aug. 27 statement by Baraka on Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo's Aug. 26 offer to loan the city $120 million in bond notes to accelerate its Lead Service Line Replacement Program.
The eighth and last paragraph of the statement, issued 12:10 p.m. Aug. 27, reads: "The City of Newark is doing everything we can to address this issue fir Newark residents. Today's announcement is a significant step forward in helping the City of Newark modernize our drinking water infrastructure, and (in boldface type) we invite residents to a meeting on Tuesday, August 27, at 6:00 p.m. in the rotunda of Newark City Hall to join us in getting to participate in the (LSLRP)."
"Local Talk" received the mayor's statement simultaneously with three other releases from the Newark People's Assembly 12:10 p.m. that Tuesday.
The NPA batch included a "Save the Dates" Aug. 27-Oct. 13 joint calendar - which did not include the Aug. 27 6 p.m. residents' volunteer sign-up rotunda meeting. The thinking at "Local Talk," at the time, was that the meeting was a late entry.
Several electronic and print media members who entered the rotunda before 6 p.m. that Tuesday, however, were told by the Mayor's Public Information Office staff to disassemble and leave.
TAPInto-Newark Editor Mark Bonamo said he saw television news camera operators leaving from the same City Hall Green Street employee side entrance he was entering. (City Hall's Broad Street/Gibson Boulevard main entrance closes daily at around 5 p.m.)
"We were generally shocked and surprised that we were not let into what believed was going to be a public meeting," said Bonamo Aug. 28. "We were told that this meeting was for residents only."
Bonamo shared his experience on NJTV News' Aug. 28 edition in a round table discussion with correspondent Michael Hill and Rutgers Law School adjunct professor and media attorney Bruce Rosen.
There are times where city departments hold meetings among themselves to discuss matters of a personnel and/or legal nature. Such discussions, where the Municipal Council is involved, are to be released at a later date when the subject matters are no longer confidential.
The city administration has held quarterly staff meetings in the rotunda which, except for the periodic sign board announcement, are not considered for public consumption.
Those holding a public event do have the opportunity to set ground rules for the public and the media. There had been advance announcements that the officials or speakers will not answer questions on a particular subject or not answer questions at all.
"Local Talk" has been present at events where a celebrity chef at a book signing will not talk about a failed television series or an actress who will not autograph a pictorial centerfold that she had done some 10 years earlier.
Baraka, while at National Action Network-Newark's water bottle distribution Aug. 24, refrained from answering questions - except for two sentences.
"This' his event," said the mayor while nodding towards NAN founder Rev. Al Sharpton. "There will be a major announcement by the Essex County Executive (Joseph DiVincenzo) Monday at 9 a.m."
That was the first public indication of DiVincenzo's Aug. 26 announcement of intending to loan the city $120 million to expedite Newark's LSLRP.
Rosen, on NJTV, said that the Baraka Administration could have set up a reporting pool for the Aug. 27 volunteer sign-up. One or two reporters could have been in the rotunda to represent the rest - who would watch from a closed circuit television feed.
All of the above could have been done in advance. It was not done for 6 p.m., Aug. 27, which led to Rosen's observation.
"Constitutionally, it's a public forum," said Rosen. "He invited the public and the media is part of the public. In fact, the media a representative of the public. You can't decide, 'In this public forum, you can come and you can't.' "
Newark Director of Communication, Frank Baraff, issued the following statement that Wednesday morning: "With the intention of facilitating a productive meeting and encouraging an open dialogue with volunteers, we chose not to open the discussion to members of the press so that residents will not shy away from helping us in these efforts," said Baraff. "We know how critical members of the press are to informing the public and will update you with additional information about our efforts to get our lead service lines replaced in the city. At future meetings, there will be media availability."
"It's confusing that you invite the media to a public event and tell them they're not," said Rosen. "It's indicative of a public official who is under pressure, who believes that the press will somehow distort the reporting."
The mayor, to be clear, has the power of the bully pulpit to clarify, explain and/or refute the accuracy of reporting. Baraka, as of late, has produced two social media videos related to the water crisis; one was a panel discussion update and the other on how it has affected his own South Ward household.
Baraka spent 11 minutes being interviewed on the water crisis by NJTV's Hill, which aired 5 p.m. Aug. 27. The mayor said several times that there has been "a cloud of doubt and confusion" that he and his administration have strived to correct.
"In terms of getting the message out, I'd give our work a 'C' - Average," said Baraka "What we tried to do is explain that it's the lead service lines, not the source of Newark's water, that is the problem. In trying to make that separation, maybe we could've done it better."
Baraka, in Hill's interview, responded to the part of the Aug. 24 "New York Times" article, "Tainted Water, Ignored Warning and a Boss With a Criminal Past," on Acting Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem's qualifications.
"He is a licensed water and sewer system operator and inspector," said Baraka of Adeem. "He is on a state water and sewer utilities board - but the reporters chose to leave that out. The media doesn't work for us, we don't send them a check, we have to get our message out."
The mayor, regarding transparency, also explained that they have to report their water tester's findings to the federal and state agencies - and publicly post the results.
"In terms of transparency and water management, we've been working to get ahead of it," said Baraka. "I'd give it a B, B+."
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