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BY SAM SPOKONY | East Villagers took to the streets on Saturday to protest the spread of 7-Eleven convenience stores throughout the neighborhood, and to show some love for local bodegas that have had roots in the community for years.
Bob Holman and Eileen Myles, who are both longtime local residents, activists and renowned writers, led a group of about two dozen demonstrators on a march that started around noon outside the site of a future 7-Eleven at E. 11th St. and Avenue A.
“This is about free expression, and it’s about people taking pride in their neighborhood and their delis,” said Holman, the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, who made the march while draped in symbolic chain links. “There’s just something awful about the soullessness and facelessness of 7-Eleven, and this is the tipping point.”
Along with the aforementioned site, 7-Eleven announced last month that it plans to open dozens more stores in Manhattan over the next few years. The mega-chainstore already has locations on E. 14th St. and the Bowery.
So on Saturday, amid chants condemning corporate greed, Holman, Myles and their fellow protesters took a brief tour of the bodegas near Tompkins Square Park. And the antiestablishment crew didn’t just talk the talk, as they also shelled out a few bucks to their local proprietors, for a cup of coffee or a sandwich.
“All right, I’m gonna go buy something!” Holman barked as the group made their first stop outside the Deli & Grocery on E. 11th St, between Avenue A and B. The other members followed suit, with some also sharing stories about how their blocks’ bodegas had given them a helping hand after Hurricane Sandy struck.
Outside the Sheen Brothers bodega, on Avenue B between E. Ninth and 10th Sts., Myles told of how the store had shared candles and generator power in the days of power outages following the storm.
“They showed that they’re a real neighborhood place,” she said.
Later, outside Tompkins Finest Deli, on Avenue A near E. 10th St., another protestor told of how bodega employees had let him use their flashlight to shop and navigate inside the store in the dark after Sandy.
And two blocks up, outside Poppy’s Gourmet Deli, also on Avenue A, the group took on another member when a resident of that building heard the commotion and came outside to join the protest.
“I’m so glad to see them out here doing something, because I’ve been asking about how to get involved,” said Sherry Beth, 29, who has lived above the deli at 191 Avenue A for about two years, after moving from a previous apartment in the East Village. “I go to Poppy’s all the time. It’s great, and I just don’t want another 7-Eleven around here.”
Holman said there will probably be a similar march planned within the next couple of weeks, although he added that this particular march was “all organic,” and somewhat spontaneous in its planning and the events of the walk itself.
And in a move uncharacteristic of an East Village radical, Holman also gave a nod to Detective Jaime Hernandez, a Ninth Precinct community affairs officer, who the poet said was “pleasant” and understanding throughout the peaceful and non-disruptive protest.