Vegan mecca’s supporters ride rails to protest baker’s eviction

From left, Fran Luck and Carl Rosenstein picketed outside the Tarrytown real estate office of Ronald Friedman on Monday.

From left, Fran Luck, Carl Rosenstein and Julie Weiner picketed outside the Tarrytown real estate office of Ronald Friedman on Jan. 28.

BY PETE DOLACK  |  Neighborhood activists picketed the Tarrytown offices of the landlord whose high rents have forced the Whole Earth Bakery to shut its doors after two decades on St. Mark’s Place.

The Dec. 28 action came a day before the popular vegan bakery’s final day, and amidst a steady stream of fans and patrons who consoled proprietor Peter Silvestri upon hearing the news in mid-December. The bakery was remembered by patrons as a friendly community space where regulars were greeted with a hug by Silvestri, who often donated his vegan goodies to help community events.

The bakery’s closing was seen as not only a blow to the East Village — where mom-and-pop businesses integrated into the neighborhood are steadily being forced out of business by rapidly rising rents — but as symbolic of gentrification.

The group of seven activists, organized by Fran Luck, who traveled to Tarrytown in Westchester County were backed by many others who could not travel. Among them were artists Seth Tobocman and Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz, who made signs that the picketers carried, and an anonymous donor who underwrote the Metro-North fare for those who could not have otherwise participated.

Equating landlord Ronald Friedman with the Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge, the activists walked a picket line in front of Friedman’s suburban office and spoke to passing office workers for close to two hours. They held a speak-out — which was videotaped for future YouTube presentation — in which they demanded commercial rent control and an end to tax write-offs for properties left vacant because of gentrifying rents.

After picketing, the activists went inside in an attempt to speak to the landlord. His office was closed for the holiday, however, and they left a copy of their flier, titled “Merry Christmas Mr. Scrooge,” under his office door.

“We went up to Tarrytown because landlords who pull the strings on our community from afar, and without any consequence, should know that we will come to their communities to respond,” Luck said.

Whole Earth Bakery’s rent rose from $1,100 a month in 1991 to $5,300, an increase about three times faster than the rate of inflation.

Proprietor Silvestri worked seven days a week at his bakery, only to have all his revenue go to the landlord, who could thus afford to take off for the holiday, the protestors said during the action.

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2 Responses to Vegan mecca’s supporters ride rails to protest baker’s eviction

  1. Although they are not always wonderfully effective, we do have laws which regulate many kinds of profit making activities that adversely impact the public good. So even if it would be more profitable, you are restricted from doing certain things with your building because of the adverse impact on the community (e.g., open up a bar in a residential neighborhood). Maybe a set of laws could be enacted that would give special protection to specific agreed upon uses. One way of doing this would be to provide for commercial rent control for such businesses. Residential rent control and stabilization have long been upheld by the US Supreme Court as not depriving landlords of their constitutional rights of private property ownership when properly established and applied. Why not extend rent control in certain cases to commercial tenants for the public good of the community? Then we really wouldn't care if Silvestri is a scrooge or not as a tenant like the bakery would be protected by the law, not by the goodwill of some businessman.

  2. The Whole Earth Bakery was more than just a place to by vegan pastries and other baked goods, it was a symbol of holistic lifestyles, of community, and was part of the culture of caring and love. What will replace the W.E.B., some tattoo parlor specializing in body art involving skulls, the sexism of depicting naked women, and monster trucks?
    A corp franchise, that is not only about homogenizing the Lower East Side into mainstream suburban mall culture, a culture of alienation and death by consumer garbage and the imperialism of sending local money out of the community? What ever it may be, it will not serve the community needs as faithfully as Peter did.

    I applaud passion of Ms Luck and the other community activists who went to Tarrytown.

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