A neighborhood group has successfully raised alarms about a suspected rat infestation at a Dollar Tree location in Queens, New York, leading to the store’s temporary closure.
Residents of Ozone Park, a neighborhood in the southwestern section of Queens, reported rat sightings to the Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OZPKRBA), a nonprofit organization that serves community interests.
OZPKRBA President Sam Esposito told FOX Business that residents began sending complaints about a possible rat infestation in June.
He visited the Dollar Tree store on Cross Bay Boulevard on Sunday, August 6, after a community member sent over photos of the alleged infestation and uploaded images to the OZPKRBA’s Facebook group – the Ozone Park Voice News Group
“I decided to go and look myself,” Esposito wrote in an email. “I was appalled at what I saw and how infested this store was.”
In a recent interview with FOX 5 New York, Esposito said he saw opened bags of chips and pretzels at the Cross Bay Dollar Tree, which may have put local children at risk of contamination exposure.
Esposito shared photos he reportedly took during his site visit, which show torn bags of chips, pasta and jerky, as well as what appears to be rat droppings on store shelves.
FOX Business reached out to Dollar Tree for comment.
The New York City Health Department’s online rat information portal shows the address of 13720 Cross Bay Boulevard, where the Ozone Park Dollar Tree stands now, last passed its inspection in January 2022; the property hasn’t received a treatment from the city since 2015.
“The health and safety of New Yorkers is this administration’s top priority,” a spokesperson for the NYC Health Department wrote in an email to FOX Business.
“These conditions were shared with the Health Department very recently, and we immediately launched an investigation,” the statement continued.
“We will take all necessary action to protect the health of New Yorkers as a result of this investigation.”
Esposito told FOX 5 he brought up the issue with store management, but he reportedly received a verbal refusal to close the Dollar Tree.
The Cross Bay Dollar Tree is a block away from a local hotel that has been serving as a shelter, according to FOX 5.
Residents of that shelter have reportedly turned to the Cross Bay Dollar Tree for necessities because it accepts electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
“You’ve got 108 families with a couple hundred kids living there,” Esposito told FOX 5. “They use this all the time.”
The OZPKRBA has issued three demands to Dollar Tree’s corporate office, which include the removal of perishable items, a thorough cleaning and the replacement of damaged or stained shelves, according to FOX 5.
In a statement provided to FOX 5, a spokesperson for Dollar Tree said the company expects to reopen the Cross Bay location next week.
“The store, which was just remodeled last month, is putting extra measures in place to ensure all safety, sanitation and health standards are met and the community’s concerns are addressed,” the company told FOX 5.
“We look forward to serving the community again soon.”
The OZPKRBA has notified community members of the Cross Bay Dollar Tree’s temporary closure on Facebook.
“As a block association, we will NOT back down, will not fear anyone, and will continue to hold everyone to the highest level of responsibility when it comes to our Ozone Park community,” the community watchdog posted on its dedicated Facebook group on Tuesday, August 8.
Esposito and the OZPKRBA have received written thank-yous from community members on the social media website.
“You saved a bunch of people from getting sick and poisoned,” one community member wrote on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
“There’s no way this didn’t affect the surrounding businesses,” another Facebook user wrote.
“I love Dollar Tree. I stopped going because the store was always in disarray,” another community member shared.
Last year, FOX Business reported on a Family Dollar distribution facility that was shuttered in Arkansas after health authorities discovered a rat infestation.
Dollar Tree is a multi-price-point discount chain that operates more than 15,100 stores throughout the U.S. (except Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada.
The company is headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia.