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University Food Market (1957-2003)
(Click first photo to enter gallery...)
October 31, 2003: The University Food Market (formerly Ta-Kome deli) closes
after 46 years.
Photos by Jay L. Clendenin.
[ MOVIE ]
Photo: Frank da Cruz, May 2002
Broadway and West 115th Street, New York City, facing the Columbia
University campus directly across Broadway. (This section was written
prior to the change of ownership.)
Photo: Steve Jensen, 1985;
CLICK for detail
A deli of some sort has had the corner spot on this block since who knows
when. About 1957 whatever deli was there at the time (name?) was purchased
by the family of the present owner, Charlie Pastor, and called Ta-Kome,
"Home of the Hero" (left). Until 1986 it was a single-width establishment,
only 25 feet wide, one of the most crowded spots in town. To its right was
Salter's, a huge, ancient, cavernous, dusty book store specializing in
Columbia course and/or used books (they'd sell you a new book for $30 and
buy it back the next day for ten cents, and sell it the next for $29.95).
(And to Salters' right, for a couple years, was Ta-Kome II, a Ta-Kome
satellite that sold takeout hamburgers and french fries).
When the Salters finally retired about 1985, Ta-Kome got the space, expanded
to fill half the block, and renamed itself University Food Market (UFM),
since now it was indeed a supermarket as well as a deli. Instead of one
cash register there were six, plus aisles and counters galore, and about 40
new jobs were created. UFM is the primary source of calories for the
neighborhood and still one of the most crowded spots in town,
especially since absorbing the legacy of
Joy's (a long-lived Italian deli just down the street, closed in
2001 after more than 50 years), and even more while D'Agostino's supermarket
on 110th Street was closed for a year in 2002 for construction of
[ Sep 2003 ]
[ Oct 2003 ]
[ Nov 2003 ]
[ Dec 2003 ]
[ Jan 2004 ]
[ Feb 2004 ]
(Latest news at the bottom...)
- 17 September 2003:
UFM announced it will close after almost 50 years on November 1st, and will
new management. About 50
people work there; as of this writing,
their future is
- October 2003: Most of the countermen and chefs were let go; a few were
offered jobs in the new store at a substantial pay cut (about 50 percent).
Most of the cashiers were offered jobs at a 20-30% pay cut. The night
manager was offered a position at less than half his current pay. Many of
the employees have worked there 10, 20, 30, 40 years, or more. The more
senior the employee, the bigger the pay cut. Although in the end most were
offered jobs, many could not afford to stay; the lower wages were not enough
to support their families. Those who had their salaries cut but stayed anyway
were told they would receive a 50-cent raise after the first month.
[Oct 30th Spectator letter]
- October 31 - November 1 (PHOTOS).
Halloween night UFM closed early for
inventory, and the next morning it was open under new management,
substantially unchanged, but with some familiar faces replaced by new ones
(I believe the original plan had been to close the store for three months
for remodeling). An article appeared in the NY Times, Sunday, November 2nd:
Hello, Bright Lights, Big Chain, and So Long to a General Store. It
says Morton Sloan, new co-owner of the store, "did not confirm the drop in
wages but added that about 80 percent of the 50 current employees would
remain; 'Some people will be making more, some will be making less'." In
fact, many employees suffered substantial pay cuts. On the positive side,
however, Morton Williams (a chain of 9 markets in
Manhattan and the Bronx) is a union shop:
Local 342 of the
UFCW (United Food and Commercial
Workers, AFL-CIO) for the meat handlers and
Local 338 of the
(Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union / UFCW) for everybody else.
All employees will be union members and will work full time with full
health, vacation, and pension benefits, plus sick and personal days (they
already had all that except the pension). Still, it's hard to imagine
raising a family in New York City on $7.00 an hour! (The union contract
kicks in after 90 days.)
- November 12th. The lead article in today's Spectator is
Wages Force Some UFM Employees to Quit.
I had a discussion with Morton Sloan, the new co-owner. He said that some
wages were "artificially high" and needed to be adjusted to market rates for
fairness with his other stores. The new wages typically run below $10.00 an
hour. Most cashiers are making between $5.50 and $7.50 per hour. $7.00 an
hour is $12,000 a year. $10.00 an hour (the high end of the non-managerial
wage scale at the new UFM) is still only $18,000 a year (this was offered,
for example, to a counterman with 27 years seniority, supporting a family
with three teenage children).
Poverty is defined as an
income below $18,400 for a family of four or $15,260 for a family of three
(2003, nationwide). The cost of living in NYC is more than
3.5 times the US
average. The new wage scales might be "fair" and "good business
practice" in today's economy, but they are not living wages, especially for
New York City
wage, by the way, is $5.15. NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum says,
earner would have to work 154 hours every week to afford a
two-bedroom unit at fair market rent" (see Links
Morton Williams should be credited for keeping so many of the
original UFM people on rather than firing them; for having a union shop; for
remodeling with the store open rather than closing it for three months; and
for employing (according to Sloan) 90% minorities (primarily Hispanic) in
its stores. MW should be encouraged, however, to consider the cost of
living and raising children in New York City when determining what is a
fair wage, and also to include seniority in the calculation -- 10,
20, or 30 years of loyal service is worth something. Similarly for
scheduling: UFM's working parents need to be able to drop their kids
off at school or day care in the morning and pick them up after work on a
predictable basis, just like any other working parents.
The previous owners were able to run the store with more employees and
higher wages and still make a profit. Happy workers are good
business. Let's hope Morton Williams succeeds in its new location. The
neighborhood needs a good and affordable food market, and the employees need
their jobs. Morton Williams has every prospect for success, due to its
prime location and the impending shutdown of its main competitor in the
Side Market (85 more jobs lost). Share the wealth with the workers who
make it possible!
[Nov 19th Spectator letter]
Salaries remain low, but schedules are settling down and there have been
some promotions. The store is now open 24 hours, which means there must
also be a shift's worth of new jobs. These are signs of progress.
I discovered that there has been an ongoing discussion of UFM on the
MHNET group (follow the link and then search for "university food
market"). Most postings echo the sentiment that the UFM people
have been like family all these years, that the layoffs and salary cuts
have not been a good way for Morton Williams to introduce itself to the
neighborhood, and that the mood in the store since the turnover ranges
from "bad vibes" to "shell-shocked" to "grim". I don't think Morton
Williams appreciated how visible, well-known, and well-liked the UFM people
were among the customer base it has inherited.
Kent wrote of the new arrangements dividing "those of us who have got it
made in the neighborhood from those who labor at poverty level wages on our
behalf. It will be difficult to chat about our respective kids and how they
are doing in school or whatever. I imagine being on one's feet for many
hours behind a cash register must leave one pretty weary over a long
stretch... I don't mind slightly higher prices, but I will object most
strenously to bad treatment of our staff friends."
There are also some postings from Morton Williams officials, primarily
addressing questions about pricing and facilities. It's good that the
communication lines are open. After reading this material, I can see that
Morton Williams has an investment to recoup, and therefore might need to
operate at higher margins than Charlie Pastor did. Like Ed, I don't mind
higher prices so much, but I think that taking it out of the salaries of
workers who were already making under $20,000 (and in many cases under
$15,000) is a false economy. According to Morton Sloan only 5 to 7 people
had their salaries reduced and still stayed on (others who were offered
reduced salaries had to leave). If that's true, and the average reduction
was (say) $3.00 an hour, that's about $5500 per person per year, or $38,000
total annual savings (maybe $46,000 with benefits), against an investment
(according to the material in the Yahoo group) of "millions" -- not worth
the bad feelings among staff and customers. (These are rough
estimates, applying only at the non-managerial level.)
- 18 November - 7 December: No heat in store for three weeks.
- 25 November 2003 Spectator article:
Adds Amenities Under New Ownership
But many area residents remain unhappy with the store's labor practices.
- 8 December 2003.
6,200-SF Corner Location on Broadway for Morton Williams Supermarkets
(Robert K. Futterman & Associates, Inc, press release).
"Principals of [Morton Williams] include Columbia University alumni who
understand the community and have a vision of what the corner
location could become."
- 10 December 2003. I spoke with Avi Kaner, VP of Morton Williams, who
said (regarding the increases that were promised after the first month but
had not yet materialized), "They [the employees] will immediately receive
the appropriate raises." He also says that the store now employs more
people than it did prior to changing hands. The raise was 25¢ and it
first appeared on December 24th; it comes to $9.50 per 38-hour week.
- 29 December 2003. Julio (deli counter, 9 years) promoted to manager and
sent to the 59th
Street branch. The "Julio Special" remains behind on the sandwich
- 9 January 2004 until ???: The heating ducts are being replaced in the
course of remodeling, so on the coldest days of the last 10 years (1°F
on Jan 10th and again on Jan 16th) there is no heat and the staff is
freezing and not receiving any extra "hazardous duty pay" or compensatory
time. The cashiers get the worst of it, since they are near the windows and
doors and have to stay in one place. Every time a customer exits, a blast
of frigid air comes directly on them. The cashiers have to dress like
arctic explorers but no amount of clothing can keep them warm in this
weather; it's like being outside all day.
Historically January is the coldest
month of the year in NYC, with an average low of 26°F and an average
high of 38°F. Here are the temperatures (°F) since the heat went
off; the low occurs about 7:00 or 8:00am, at the start of the morning shift
(the coldest days also had sustained winds between 15 and 30mph with gusts
to 40 or 50):
- 15 January 2004: Armando, former deli manager (and previously
at Mama Joy's), appointed assistant store manager.
- 17 January 2004: The Good News: Space heaters were installed in
two of the six checkout counters, and a veteran cashier (Ritha) was promoted
to assistant manager. The Bad News: José Jiménez,
beloved night manager of Ta-Kome and UFM for 37 years, quit in disgust after
having his salary slashed, then being transferred from the store he loved to
another branch and put to work mopping floors -- a sad day for customers and
his fellow workers alike.
customer writes, "...on my parting hug he told me that he had tried
and tried but that he just couldn't take it anymore and he had finally
quit... i then saw him walk out for good. we'll never see him again. so
the nice manager who was always so friendly and helpful is gone! he always
told me that after his many years there that we his customers were his
family. what a loss to the community!"
- 19-20 January 2004: The scaffolding in front of the store (which has
been up since long before the transfer of ownership) was taken down, which
means renovation of the storefront will begin soon.
It was from this building -- 601 West 115th Street -- that a chunk of
masonry fell in May 1979, killing a Barnard College student; this was the
origin of NYC Local Laws 10 (1980) and 11 (1998), which require inspection
of the façade of every residential building over six stories tall
every four (or five) years; hence the scaffolding on this building and
thousands of others all over the city ever since.
- 21 January 2004: Storefront renovations commence. A plywood shelter
is being constructed over the north bank of windows (where the new cash
registers are being installed) which should provide some shelter when the
window glass comes out.
- 23 January 2004, 8:00am. Construction workers pop out the south
bank of windows, where the cashiers are. No shelter was erected in front of
these windows, like the plywood protecting the north bank. It is 12 degrees
with winds gusting to 25 mph. The cashiers were not told in advance this
would happen, so they did not know to bring even more clothes than
usual. (By 10:00am the hole was covered with plywood but it was still
freezing inside because there is still no heat. Plus the "air lock"
on the exit door is stuck open, to ensure an extra blast of cold air as
- 24-25 January 2004, 8:00am. The old registers were removed and the
cashiers moved to new registers at the north end. It's 14°F and
brutally cold. The new registers have small space heaters but not all of
them were working. The next morning (7 degrees) some of the heaters
were removed, and it's as cold as ever. (The space heaters -- at the
registers that have them, and when they work -- are good for the feet and
legs but little help for the upper body and especially the hands, which must
must be uncovered for making change. Apparently there is not enough
electrical service to have a heater at each register, and/or to supply
current to the heater and to all parts of the checkout station at the same
- 26 January 2004, 8:00am. More windows coming out, 14°F. New York
State Consolidated Law, Chapter 31 ("Labor Law"), Article 14 ("Mercantile
and Other Establishments"), Title 1
("Sanitation"), §382 ("Ventilation, temperature and humidity"), states
"Every mercantile establishment and every restaurant shall be provided with
proper and sufficient means of ventilation by natural or mechanical means or
both, as may be necessary, and there shall be maintained therein proper
and sufficient ventilation and proper degrees of temperature and humidity at
all times during working hours." Consult the
temperature chart above;
note that the average high for the period is below freezing
(and only a fraction of a degree above the average low for January)
and that the outside temperature is approximately equal to the inside
temperature, especially at the checkout counters. Apparently management is
now making an effort to route more power to the counters for the space
heaters, but this is taking some time. Remodeling with the store open
for business is far preferable to closing the store and furloughing the
workers but shouldn't temporary heating have been part of the plan from
- 29 January 2004, 8:00am, 21°F. More windows being replaced; cold
wind blowing through the deli area, still no heat. Most of the
cashiers now have working space heaters, but the new (temporary?)
entrance/exit door by the cashiers has no air lock or shield, and a cold
wind comes in every time the door opens. Meanwhile, most of the old
shelving and cabinetry is being replaced and rearranged throughout the store
(this has been an ongoing process but moved into high gear in recent days).
The produce section has been moved to the front windows (where the cashiers
were) and almost everything else has moved too, except the deli counter and
the aisle closest to it.
- 30 January 2004, 8:00am, 15°F. All the cashiers have at least one
working space heater, some have two. Good! (But the rest of the store
is still cold.) Reorganization of the interior space continues and new
floor tiling is being installed.
- 1 February 2004. The Local
338 union contract starts today.
CLICK HERE to read the contract (PDF format,
CLICK HERE to view a comparison table of
the Local 338 contract with other union contracts covering similar work
forces (such as cashiers and cafeteria workers) across the street at Columbia.
- 2 February 2004. Columbia Spectator:
Williams Disappoints Employees, Satisfies Customers"
"Since Morton Williams Associated Market purchased UFM, 23 of the original
45 employees have left. The store claims it is trying to improve the
shopping experience for Morningside residents, but many residents are
increasingly vocal in their opposition to Morton Williams' treatment of its
employees." The article goes on to allege a systematic pattern of pay cuts,
schedule changes, transfers, and mistreatment whose effect (I won't
speculate about motive) has been to encourage "overpaid" employees -- those
with years of seniority -- to resign so they can be replaced by lower-paid
Additional temporary heaters have been installed around the store.
Meanwhile outdoor temperatures have moderated, with highs between 35°
and 45°, which makes a huge difference inside. A new sign at the
checkout counters invites cashiers to enjoy free coffee, tea, hot chocolate,
and soup. (Of course, employees had always been entitled to free coffee,
tea, hot chocolate, and soup; before the change of ownership, they were also
entitled to free meals. Now they must pay.)
- 9 February 2004. Columbia Spectator:
Continue On Store's Policies", focusing mainly on Local 338.
- 10 February 2004. Columbia Spectator:
to the Editor regarding Morton Williams UFM.
- 13 February 2004. The second 25¢ installment of the promised
50¢ raise takes effect this week.
- 19 February 2004. Columbia Spectator:
Scandals" (Opinion) "Veteran workers' salaries were slashed --
sometimes by as much as 70 percent -- and many were transferred to other
Morton Williams stores in the city and assigned menial tasks. …
Somebody should have checked Morton Williams' wage-slashing exploits; that
somebody is Local 338 … And although the union vehemently rejects
this assessment, 338, quite simply, hasn't been doing its job. …
The starting hourly wage for a cashier at
Morton Williams University Market (as the store is now known) is about $6.
That comes to $12,000 a year. You show me how to live on $12,000 in this
city, let alone raise a family… Why
didn't Columbia demand that MWUM pay a living wage? …
Resources recently posted an ad for part-time cashiers … at
$15-$17 an hour. If the University believes such work is worth $17 on one
side of Broadway, how can it justify leasing to a company that pays
one-third as much across the street?" (SEE
- 26 February 2004. Columbia Spectator:
Williams Defends Cuts".
response (LOCAL COPY).
What disturbs me about the tone of this discussion is how so many people
seem to feel that the UFM workers are trying to put one over on "us" in
their desire to earn a living wage, as if they don't deserve to have enough
money to pay their rent or feed their children, no matter how hard or how
long they have worked. But we're going in circles. Morton Williams says it
has done nothing wrong; they bought a store and offered jobs to (most of)
its employees at the going rates. The employees have done nothing wrong
either; they worked for years and years at UFM until their wages became
higher than the current sub-poverty "industry standard" set by Wal-Mart,
to the extent that Morton Williams feels it can call their former salaries
"unreasonable" and "outrageous". Long-time UFM customers, however, are
appalled at what has happened to their friends on the UFM staff. UFM was
one of the very few long-lived and stable businesses in the neighborhood --
46 years at the same location. It must have been doing something right!
Part of that something was making lifetime careers for good hard-working
people, whom we came to know and love. To see them fired or their wages
slashed after all these years was almost as much a slap in the face
to us as it was to them. No wonder you don't find the same crowds of
customers in the store as there were before.
At UFM, we are seeing the new economy up close and it's not pretty. Of
course other neighborhood stores deserve the same attention, but tend not to
get it because few of them last very long and/or they have extremely high
employee turnover and/or they are not the type of store you would visit 2-3
times a day. Indeed, Morton Williams does not deserve to be singled out in
the new world of Duane Reades, Wal-Marts, and all the rest. But for
Columbians it's hard to ignore what has happened at UFM because it's in
the family. If I have focussed unfairly on Morton Williams, I hope
others will focus on other establishments until there is a consensus that
all people who work deserve a living wage, and that companies deserve
our business when they "Just Say No" to the Race to the Bottom.
- 24 March 2004. Columbia Spectator
Letter to the Editor:
Sloan Owes Grocery Workers Respect and a Living Wage".
- 26 March 2004. Columbia Spectator
to the Neighborhood - Morton Williams' worker practices are not
acceptable here, concludes with "Morton Williams needs to change its
ways, or Morningside Heights needs to take its money elsewhere." This stops
just short of calling for a boycott that would probably hurt the employees
as much, if not more, than MW. All former UFM employees (except a few) got
a very raw deal and most of them are now gone, many of those still out of
work. MW should find a way to make amends. As the editorial points out,
this is a community that respects and rewards socially responsible
- 15 June 2006.
Charlie Pastor, of Mamaroneck, NY,
died at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, almost 50 years after
he opened the Ta-Kome deli on the corner. I always loved his store; it had
a special place in my heart, like family, magical things happened there.
Everybody loved and respected Charlie and wishes he had never left.
Photo: Frank da Cruz, July 2004. CLICK for larger view.
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Frank da Cruz / email@example.com