In an hour-long Facebook video released Friday by Pastor Derrick Scobey of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Hank and Susan Binkowski — owners of Smart Saver, Buy For Less, Super Mercado and Uptown Grocery stores — announced a plan to open a new northeast OKC grocery store within 60 to 90 days.
The Binkowskis shocked northeast OKC community members at the start of August by abruptly closing their Smart Saver at the corner of Northeast 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Shoppers and even community leaders like Scobey and Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice received less than a week’s warning that the primary grocery store serving their neighborhoods would cease operations.
As news spread, the Binkowskis’ company — Esperanza Real Estate Investments — declined to discuss the store’s closure. The only public statements from store owners came when Susan Binkowski posted comments about the viability of grocery delivery on an Aug. 3 Facebook video that Scobey, Nice and Fairview Baptist Church Pastor John A. Reed had recorded.
But in Friday’s latest video announcing plans for a new store, Scobey mentioned that Susan Binkowski texted him for assistance at 2:59 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 4. In subsequent days, the Binkowskis met with Scobey, Reed and other pastors to discuss what had happened and what could happen next.
“Through those meetings, we came to the resolution and conclusion that they desired to be back in the community, but there was obviously some negativity — and not unjust,” Scobey said in his Friday video. “The community didn’t understand why they closed so abruptly.”
Scobey said poor communication from the Binkowskis fueled negative community reactions.
“Because of certain things that were said by so many different people, they just felt like, ‘You know what, the community doesn’t want us here anymore,'” Scobey said. “And Dr. Reed and I were saying, ‘No, that’s not really the case.’ The community wants a quality grocery store with quality groceries in the store regardless of who owns the store. We need a store in our community.”
Scobey’s Facebook video is embedded at the end of this post.
Scobey reveals past, future timelines
Joined by Simone Graves, who serves as director of the executive office to the CEO of Esperanza Real Estate Investments, the Binkowskis allowed Scobey to reveal a vague timeline about their previous store’s closure and their new lease agreement to open an Uptown Grocery hub at the site of the former Save-A-Lot grocer just east of North Kelley Avenue along Northeast 36th Street.
“Before the store closed, they had been in talks with Charles Shadid with the 36th Street shopping center about transitioning the grocery store from the current location to the 36th Street location,” Scobey said. “But I think we all understand that when you’re shrewd in business you’re going to hold the rent factor where you need to hold it because you know that the person can’t go anywhere else. So they couldn’t do what he was asking them to do — they didn’t desire to do what he was asking them to do.”
Scobey said the Binkowskis showed him and Reed photographic evidence that they were forced to close the old store owing to plumbing issues. Photos of pipe work were overlaid in the video, screenshots of which appear in this post.
“One picture is of a man that was about 6’2″ tall and he was down in a hole underneath the store, and it was another five or six inches on top of his head before you got to the floor of the store. And he was down in this hole, and he’s working on about an 18 to 24-inch section of a pipe. But the problem was there was another 25 feet worth of pipe he needed to work on,” Scobey said. “That’s definitely not to say they didn’t have the finance to do it cause they did, but listen we kind of know how that deal goes because we kind of say at some point you can’t throw good money after bad money any more.”
Scobey said the emergency plumbing problems coupled with day-to-day maintenance ultimately made continued operation of the 23rd Street store untenable.
“You know what, I kind of understand that,” Scobey said. “But let me tell you what myself and Dr. Reed told them that we didn’t agree with, and that was the lack of communication with the appropriate people. (…) We brow-beat them in the fact that they did not communicate with us as the spiritual leaders of the community.”
Scobey said Reed was unable to appear on Friday’s Facebook video owing to preparations for a funeral, but Scobey also said Reed had asked him to relay a message.
“He wanted the community to know that he is in full support of this grocery store opening in the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma City by the Binkowskis, as long as the grocery store opens,” Scobey said. “So what he’s saying is, ‘If the grocery store don’t open, I’m not in support.’
“What we’re not going to do is be in opposition because something happened that we didn’t like.”
New store ‘will feature everything that a grocery store should have’
Scobey also pressed the Binkowskis on multiple questions that yielded public commitments from the family company: opening the new store within 60 to 90 days, stocking quality and identifiable name-brand items such as Louisiana Hot Sauce, having a positive atmosphere, providing hot food similar to the Smart Saver store and abandoning the “10 percent surcharge” Smart Saver model that aggravated community members.
“It will feature everything that a grocery store should have,” Graves said. “You’ll have produce, you’ll have meat, and you’ll have everything that is composed in the center store, which is what we call grocery. And then we are looking to see what kind of bells and whistles we can add to that.”
Hank Binkowski said the new location will be “under 20,000 square feet,” making it less than half the size of other Uptown Grocery markets. But he and Susan Binkowski emphasized that advancements in their company’s online ordering experience will help shoppers choose to have items from larger stores delivered to the northeast OKC community hub location.
Susan Binkowski said one silver lining of this month’s grocery store drama was that her company received approval for EBT cards — also known as SNAP or “food stamp” benefits — to be used by shoppers online.
“Being a believer of Jesus, I’ve always looked to the blessings when we have a family tragedy,” Susan Binkowski said. “The critical nature of the store closure actually sort of got us the political good will. In fact, we got those overnighted.”
Nice: ‘Community is continuing to be a pawn’
As word spread of the Binkowskis’ announcement video Friday with Scobey, not all northeast OKC leaders were elated. Nice, the Ward 7 councilwoman, tweeted a KFOR story on the development Saturday morning. In a series of tweets, Nice wrote:
There is nothing to celebrate about a store that closed on their own property to lease from another property. The community is continuing to be a pawn due to the non investment of those who have no real interest and have to be begged to return to give more crumbs. I was in the meeting with the pastors on Wednesday afternoon for over an hour and they never fully committed to opening a store in the area. The request from the room was 30-35 days that they said they could originally provide. After further discussion, one of the owners said “I don’t need a store” well of course they don’t, we do. They closed their doors just over 10 days ago and now it will take them 60-90 days to provide again. Interesting to say the least. Now it was miscommunication, I don’t think so. This community deserves better than that.
Rapper and businessman Jabee Williams replied to Nice’s tweet with two black-power fist emojis, saying: “Thought I was the only one!!!!! Lol.”
Near the end of Scobey’s video Friday, Susan Binkowski praised Nice as an advocate on the issue of food security in northeast OKC.
“Nikki has been leading in this effort,” she said.
Buried tires and eminent domain from ‘the depths of hell’
Most of Friday’s Facebook video focused on the new Uptown Grocery hub now slated for the 36th Street shopping center owned by Charles Shadid, a prominent landowner in OKC.
“He did end up changing the lease dramatically from what the first ask was to make it affordable to go in there,” Hank Binkowski said of Shadid.
But almost halfway through his video, Scobey brought up the future of the nearly 20 acres of property owned by the Binkowskis on the northeast corner of Northeast 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. In recent years, the Binkowskis had attempted to strike a deal to redevelop the property as part of a project dubbed King’s Crossing, a reference to Jesus Christ.
The King’s Crossing proposal called for the construction of a full-size Uptown Grocery and additional commercial buildings for lease, but it fell apart amid negotiations over public assistance with financing and revelations that some of the property had been used as a dump for old tires and other environmentally problematic refuse in decades past.
“There were some things I have never been through as a developer. I’ve never been through even the scare of contamination. I’ve never been through having to go and investigate that — and just the length of time alone was a little bit frightening,” Susan Binkowski said Friday. “But through those things, I had been really assured that it was really kind of a private-public partnership, that it was really all of us who were going to make this happen. But when it didn’t happen, it was just like, ‘It was all you, Susan. Good luck.'”
Scobey referenced how part of the Binkowskis’ property had been slated for eminent domain when the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority — particularly OCURA board member Russell Perry — was considering a 23rd Street location for a MAPS 3 “senior wellness center.” Scobey reminded viewers about the city’s controversial use of eminent domain in other areas of northeast OKC.
“That doesn’t just happen to black folks. I just wanted to say that. It happened to you all also, and not everybody knew that,” Scobey said. “Eminent domain on that piece of land because the ‘senior wellness center’ was going to come. Well, now the Senior Wellness Center is not going to be built there, but they have not removed the eminent domain. So you’re asking that the community would join you in prayer, that that would be removed and that ultimately you all can build out King’s Crossing.”
The Binkowskis nodded in support as Scobey continued, speaking to the City of Oklahoma City as if it were a person who might be listening to his comments.
“City, you’re not building the senior wellness center there anymore, so leave the people’s property alone. Take it off. What’s the purpose to leave it on? What are you really up to, City?” Scobey asked. “[The Binkowskis] realize they have to also go get some finance from other sources to put this thing together, but you can’t even start those conversations until the eminent domain is lifted off the property and removed and cast into the depths of hell from whence it came.”
From an environmental perspective, the “depths of hell” below the surface of the Binkowskis’ property appear to be unknown to the public. While the family may have obtained testing and private analysis of their property, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has no recent records about the property, the northeast portion of which community members recall being used as a longtime dump.
“We have searched our electronic records and have not found an environmental impact study,” DEQ communications director Erin Hatfield wrote in an email to NonDoc on Aug. 7. “Those records date back to 2011.”
Meanwhile, Hank Binkowski’s closing remarks in Scobey’s video looked at the future of food security in northeast OKC.
“If there’s one good thing that has come out of this, there has been more discussion in the last 10 days about food on the northeast side and more attention that has been given, and sometimes we have taken a beating for it,” he said. “But if it takes a beating to get the news out and for everyone to see what is the real situation over here, then I’ll accept that as part of the responsibility.”