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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.