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BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL | Manhattan can boast of a dubious achievement: You don’t have far to walk to find a bank, drugstore or chain coffee house. While these businesses occupy almost every corner in town, it’s difficult to find a shoe repair store, tailor or most other basic services within walking distance.
In the East Village and Lower East Side, a dearth of supermarkets has left small delis and bodegas to provide food and dry goods to the neighborhood.
Now, a group of activists are sounding the alarm for these small businesses with the anticipated arrival of a 7-Eleven convenience store on Avenue A.
Last Saturday, dozens gathered by the Hare Krishna Tree in Tompkins Square Park for a serious, and occasionally satirical, protest against the national retailer’s impending arrival.
“No chains on the Lower East Side,” said Robert Galinsky while wearing a rusted chain around his neck.
Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club chanted, “Corporate clones out of Loisada.”
Organizers warned of an impending flood of the Slurpee-slinging chain. Already there are more than 8,000 7-Elevens in the U.S. and some 48,000 worldwide. Another 100 outlets are planned for Manhattan in the next four years.
“The whole message is local,” Holman said of the protesters’ message. “The big fight is for community control. Everyone talks about bars invading neighborhoods but chain stores are more insidious.”
Reverend Billy took time off from his daughter’s third birthday to work the bullhorn.
“7-Eleven is the devil; 7-Eleven will make us impotent,” he preached to the crowd.
“If there was a writer from The New York Times here, he might call us NIMBY types,” Billy added, derisively.
“I don’t see this as NIMBY,” Holman chimed in. “I see this as where things start.”
Organizers say the chain store will hurt bodegas and, by extension, the local economy; and that the corporate stores’ growing presence will limit food choices while offering unhealthy food options. They also fear a rising wave of chain stores will whitewash the community’s character.
One of the afternoon’s attractions was the “Community Wheel of Fortune.” Children were invited to spin the disk, listing local chains like Chase Bank and CVS/Duane Reade drugstores. When the arrow landed on those names, they were removed from the wheel and turned over to reveal preferred businesses, like a credit union or a community media center.
Rob Hollander of Save The Lower East Side said the group is working to pass a “formula retail zoning law.”
“We’re trying to get a zoning amendment for the entire city to require that all these corporate formula stores, including banks, go to the local community board for approval,” Hollander explained, adding this would allow a neighborhood to have a say on the number and location of chains.
Galinsky warned, “The Pandora’s box of Charlie Parker, Allen Ginsberg and all the East Village spirits,” will be opened if 7-Eleven opens at E. 11th St. on Avenue A.
In February, there was a march through the neighborhood to show support for local delis. Hollander said the group will increase its efforts by returning to Tompkins Square Park every weekend, and will soon hold a press conference on their zoning amendment proposal.
For more information, visit the Web site no7eleven.com.