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BY SAM SPOKONY | Around a hundred Lower East Side residents gathered with community leaders and politicians on Wednesday to rally against the impending closure of a Pathmark supermarket, which would pave the way for a largely unwelcome, upscale residential development.
“This community is stunned that we will very soon be deprived of a very basic need in our neighborhood,” said Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, at the rally outside the Pathmark at 227 Cherry St. “And that need is the affordable food and medicine that this [supermarket and pharmacy] has provided for nearly three decades.”
A&P, which owns Pathmark, announced on Sept. 28 that the Cherry St. supermarket will close at the end of December due to the sale of its lease to an unidentified party. An A&P spokesperson said the corporation is relinquishing the lease to accommodate a “large-scale residential development and improvement project, while preserving the right to operate once the project is complete.”
The community’s immediate outrage at the announcement has continued steadily since the news broke, especially among the many low-income, public housing residents and seniors who live within walking distance of the Pathmark and have few other options for grocery shopping.
“I love my Pathmark, and I would really miss it,” said Dalia Soto, who came to Wednesday’s rally from her home in the nearby LaGuardia Houses, where she has lived for more than 50 years.
Soto added that, for the past 15 years, she has done basically all of her grocery shopping at the Cherry St. supermarket. If it were to close as planned, her only other option would be to shop at the Fine Fare on Clinton St., near Grand St. — but she explained that the walk back and forth would be too long, and that the Fine Fare just doesn’t compare with the value offered by Pathmark.
Another LaGuardia Houses resident, Ruth Hawkins, showed up at the rally waving her most recent Pathmark receipt, which showed that she had saved more than $1,300 so far this year by using the store’s member discount card.
“That’s money for my family,” said Hawkins, who added that she is currently unemployed and looking for work. “It’s really scary, because we just can’t afford to shop anywhere else.”
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who helped lead a similar — and successful — fight in 2007, when the Cherry St. Pathmark was in danger of being replaced by a residential development, gave spirited and optimistic remarks at Wednesday’s gathering.
“We’ve fought this battle before, and we’ll fight it again,” Silver told the crowd, before adding, amid cheers, his firm belief that, “We’ll win!”
Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer, state Senator Daniel Squadron, City Councilmember Margaret Chin and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez — all of whom were on hand at the rally, except for Velazquez — sent an Oct. 5 letter to A&P’s C.E.O., as well as to the longtime owner of the land, F. Roy Schoenberg, imploring them to work collaboratively with community leaders in order to ease the burden on local residents.
After the rally, Silver said that the elected officials hope to meet with A&P executives, Schoenberg and the new developer as soon as possible, although that meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.
Papa later explained that, although he hasn’t received confirmation, he has good reason to believe that the developer now in control of the 227 Cherry St. lease is the Extell Development Company, which is led by Gary Barnett. Extell’s residential properties are all massive luxury apartment buildings. The company is currently constructing the 90-story One57 building in Midtown, which, at slightly more than 1,000 feet, will be the tallest residential building in the city once it’s completed in 2013. One57’s duplex penthouse sold for in excess of $90 million in May.
Soto, the LaGuardia Houses resident, said she believes a luxury building would simply feel out of place at 227 Cherry St.
“This isn’t Fifth Avenue,” she said. “We’re just regular people.”
Barnett declined to comment, via a spokesperson at Rubenstein Public Relations.