The international grocery chain Lidl US announced on Nov. 16 that it would acquire 24 Best Market stores on Long Island, including the chain’s location on Dogwood Avenue in Franklin Square. Lidl, a German-based grocery store, is a popular franchise in Europe that began its push into the U.S. in 2015.
With more than 50 stores now across the East Coast, Lidl US officials said they hoped their entry into the Long Island market would help expand their regional presence.
“Best Market has played an enormously positive role in the area, and we look forward to working closely with Best Market employees to build on that success,” Johannes Fieber, chief executive officer of Lidl US, said. “We are excited to expand into many great communities on Long Island and across the New York City area and introduce more customers to our simple and efficient approach to grocery shopping, which will mean high quality and huge savings for more shoppers.”
The move came as a surprise to local Best Market shoppers and employees, but Angel Padro, 27, said he was optimistic about the deal. Padro, a deli worker at the Franklin Square Best Market, has been fighting along with his fellow employees for years for better working conditions at the store. As previously reported by the Herald, Padro had filed a formal notice of alleged safety or health hazard complaint against Best Market with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month.
The employees’ complaints outlined repeated neglect by Best Market to address concerns over fire safety, lack of first-aid supplies and poor training. Padro said he hoped Lidl would be a better partner with its employees and fix the current problems they face at the store with renovations once the deal with Best Market is finalized.
“Maybe Lidl can meet or raise the standard of living for grocery workers like myself on Long Island,” Padro said.
William Harwood, the director of communications for Lidl US, explained that the grocery chain’s attention in 2019 would be focused on remodeling, reinvesting and reflagging the Best Market stores on Long Island. It will also introduce its signature features, which includes stocking shelves with its own private brand in addition to customer-favorite brands. Lidl US will also be removing the stores’ deli and meat departments as it switches to pre-packaged goods, which is not typical for a Long Island grocery store.
This was something that Padro and his co-worker, Marian Meszaros, said concerned customers who were used to a certain type of shopping experience. They both said that local customers like to shop for fresh foods at the store, picking out their favorite Boar’s Head products from the meat and deli departments.
“I know that our customers in Franklin Square like shopping here, and they don’t like major changes at a place they’ve gone to for years,” Meszaros said.
While Best Market employees throughout Long Island see a positive change with the Lidl US deal, many are concerned about their job security with the removal of the deli and meats department. Lidl US officials have stated that every Best Market employee would have an opportunity to work for the company with the same or improved wages and benefits, which was echoed to the employees at the Franklin Square store when they recently spoke with Lidl US representatives.
Padro said that although he is used to working at the Deli Department after holding a position there for years, he wouldn’t mind working in a different department or even at a warehouse, as long as Lidl US keeps its promises to employees. He and Meszaros said they looked forward to the renovations to the store in 2019, especially the removal of the Deli Department’s chicken oven, which they described as a serious, ongoing fire hazard at the store.
“I’ll be glad when it’s gone, but I’m still scared of a fire breaking out before then,” Padro said.
Best Market officials previously denied the allegations of neglect made by the Franklin Square employees. Best Market co-owner Aviv Raitses was also optimistic about the deal with Lidl US and said, “Partnering with Lidl on this deal offers our employees a secure future with a growing grocer, and continues the great tradition we started more than 20 years ago,” when Best Market first opened.
Despite optimism from Best Market’s workers, Lidl has earned a grim reputation in Europe for abusive labor practices, according to news reports. So much so that a book compiling workers’ hardships was published in 2006, entitled “The Blackbook on Lidl in Europe: Schwarz Retail Company: Selling Cheap at the Employee's Expense.” In the U.S., however, there have so far been no reports of labor abuse by the company.
Harwood added that the deal with Best Market would be finalized in the coming weeks and that store renovations would start before the summer of 2019.