East Villagers map out a plan to keep chain stores in check

At the E.V.C.C. workshop, mapping out a strategy to preserve local mom-and-pop stores, from left: Udo Drescher, an East Village resident; Gayle Raskin, owner of Jane’s Exchange children’s and maternity consignment store; Karen Loew, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s director for the East Village and special projects; and Tania Vargas, owner of Goat-Milk kids’ wear.

At the E.V.C.C. workshop, mapping out a strategy to preserve local mom-and-pop stores, from left: Udo Drescher, an East Village resident; Gayle Raskin, owner of Jane’s Exchange children’s and maternity consignment store; Karen Loew, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s director for the East Village and special projects; and Tania Vargas, owner of Goat-Milk kids’ wear.

BY GERARD FLYNN  |  Recently at a meeting of the East Village Community Coalition, about 20 local residents and merchants gathered to share their views on the impact that the influx of so-called “formula retail” stores is having on their lives and on their neighborhood.

Chain stores like the Gap or 7-Eleven — the latter which brought demonstrations recently when it opened on Avenue A at 11th St. — were the focus of much of the evening’s discussion. Yet, while the talk was indignant in some quarters, it was mostly quiet, if not nostalgic, for a neighborhood that has gone through a veritable “gut renovation” of gentrification for the last 20 years or so.

As groups sat around with colored markers mapping out their consumer habits or browsing a specially created pocket map showing alternatives to 7-Eleven, Melanie Trohn, a policy analyst with E.V.C.C., outlined the social forces driving the long-term trend.

Mostly, she said, the loss of the neighborhood’s former retail character is driven by the bottom line. A bakery might only be able to pay $9,000 a month for a coveted spot, but the “corporate complex” can pay a landlord $30,000 or more, she noted. Also, unlike the small business owner, the formula-retail store can draw upon a large pool of cash and credit to stay afloat in hard times, whereas the small business sinks from few customers, she explained. In other words, the small store just can’t compete.

On top of that, landlords might not even rent to small business owners, but rather hold out for the bigger payout. A credit-card culture also favors the larger retailer, drawing in many more customers, since competing independent business owners might not take plastic. Hence, the old-time bakery becomes an upscale juice bar. Jack Kerouac’s East Village becomes a mere dharma-bum brand.

As formula-retail outlets roll through her old neighborhood, one East Village resident, Kate Puls, said, “It’s hard to say, but I’m scared to think what the neighborhood might look like in 10 years.” She has seen the continuing loss of local character, as shoe repair stores, fish markets and bakeries disappear.

What formula-retail stores and banks are creating, said local activist Rob Hollander, is a kind of corporate monoculture, a “homogenization” of a neighborhood that was once renowned for its cherished cultural and commercial diversity.

As if the newcomers have a caffeinated preference for corporate culture, Puls recalled how a local chain, The Bean, lost one of its three stores to Starbucks, which she heard paid $38,000 for about 1,000 square feet.

Hollander pointed to the strip along 14th St. on either side of Union Square, where many small stores have been swallowed and supplanted by standardized replacements.

But what can be done in a market economy when corporations have every right to pay a landlord the market rate in rent and push out anyone who can’t? Actually a lot, some said. A “resurgence” in opposition to formula retail is on its way, so there’s hope for the 400 or so small businesses that remain in the East Village, it was noted.

As one activist stated, “Politicians may not listen to hippies, but they will listen to business owners.” There was a loud call for considerably more political influence to be brought to bear on the issue, from the City Council and Community Board 3, to state government in Albany.

“Anyone looking for an issue can just look out the window,” one activist reminded everyone, as the evening came to an end and as the talk turned more militant to street protests.

As if on cue, state Senator Brad Hoylman stepped into the room, just as a recorded church bell was pealing 8 p.m.

When asked what’s objectionable about larger commercial establishments pursuing their lawful right to do business in the East Village, Hoylman pointed to the loss of mom-and-pop stores and the subsequent erosion of the East Village’s uniqueness. These retail “pioneers,” he said, gave the neighborhood its distinct quality in the first place, long before the arrival of the chain store.

In addition to looking at zoning as a means to curb the chain stores’ spread, he said that C.B. 3 and politicians like his colleague state Senator Daniel Squadron “would and should” get more involved as the issue gains community traction.

At the workshop, Hoylman heard from a participant about a bill related to formula-retail zoning that began in the Hamptons. According to Sara Romanoski, E.V.C.C.’s executive director, Hoylman subsequently wrote her last Friday to report he has now signed on to that bill.

The Villager encourages readers to share articles:

Comments are often moderated.

We appreciate your comments and ask that you keep to the subject at hand, refrain from use of profanity and maintain a respectful tone to both the subject at hand and other readers who also post here. We reserve the right to delete your comment.

19 Responses to East Villagers map out a plan to keep chain stores in check

  1. I've been hearing this crap since the '80. Nothing is going to change. The city and state are not going to get involved in deciding who can rent commercial space in NYC.

    The chains have deeper pockets and will continue to take over.

    • BBMW; You need to read last Villager issue , Sharon Woolums story on a bill bottled up on committee for three years which would give rights to tenants to negotiate fair rents. New York State had a strict commercial rent control law for 18 years (1945-63) due to over speculation during WWII. Twice the city council was ready to pass a milder form of regulation based upon Arbitration and in both cases , it was stopped by the Speaker's office acting on behalf of real estate. What know body understands is that even the franchises are closing due to the
      out of control greed. Log onto savenycjobs.org for clear story

      • While not a fan of big chains all over, I find it odd that one can sympathize with a corner bodega that pays immigrants less than min wage and makes their money off low income residents who overpay for pepsi.

        If the local bodega is so good, how do they stay in business, by selling pepsi, pringles, coor's,etc , they usually aren't selling craft beer and if they are , I'm pretty sure the bulk of the business is the same stuff sold by 7 eleven.

  2. You'll get nowhere with Brad Hoylman and his pandering. Hoylman was the mouthpiece for the NY Partnership, the trade group for NYC developers and landlords. Of course EVCC is the child of Michael Rosen, himself a developer. Isn't this article a waste of electrons?

  3. The desire to “relocalize” economies, and to reorient production on a much smaller scale, is motivated more by nostalgia — and in many cases, by a nostalgia for something that never existed — than any serious analysis.

    Larger firms are far more productive than smaller ones. Small-is-beautiful advocates rarely tell us how tiny enterprises would produce locomotives, computers, or telephones.

    People who care about workers should also rethink their passion for tininess: the experience of actually-existing small businesses is that they’re not great employers, with poor pay, cheesier benefits, and more dangerous workplaces. Bigger firms are easier to regulate, more open to public scrutiny, friendlier to affirmative action programs, and more vulnerable to union organizing.

    Small Is Not Beautiful

    • Dominique Camacho

      Small business makes the world turn. It is the main economy.

      As a small business owner and employer of 16 people in the East Village for the past 10 years – I can tell you that my employees have been much better paid by far, much better treated by far – why would they stay with me for 4, 5, 6 and some 7 years? Can they make $9.50/hr as a starting salary, $13.50 as a salesperson and $18.50 as a manager at a big box? I don't think so.

      My friends who work in large corporations, which I have as well, are envious of my ability to actually make decisions, to turn on a dime, actually take advantage of market trends – small businesses are ounce by ounce ten times more productive.

  4. Whether "small is beautiful" or not is a judgement based on one's value of heterogeneity, creativity, community, intimacy versus… all those things I think less of. Try to leave your keys at The Source for a friend to come feed and walk your dog then try to leave them at Kinkos. And say hi to Santo. All one's choice. We choose, in the EVCC, for the intimacy of community. A local business owner shops in stores nearby, eats in neighborhood restaurants, their children play in the park. Or send community profits to Bentonville. Ours is serious analysis. Not "MBA speak" of efficiency.

    As to the EVCC, it is the same organization that achieved landmark status for old PS 64, the former Charas El Bohio. The same organization that spearheaded the successful rezoning of 111 square blocks of the Lower East Side. The same organization that played critical steps in the saving of St. Brigid's. That played steps with wonderful others in the larger landmark zone in the community. And more.

    As to me as a dreaded "developer"… such nonsense. Most of my Lower East Side (and New York) real estate development was building housing for women coming out of the prison system, shelter for beaten women, NYC Partnership and LESPMHA housing, housing for homeless veterans and homeless people with HIV, and more. I developed one residential building in the Lower East Side.

    I spent more years as a community organizer and writer in the Lower East Side than as a developer.

    Now I am building in agriculture company here in Vietnam. Wonderful street life here in Hanoi. Hello to my friends back home.

    • And what happens if you have a dispute with a small business or you pay high prices or folks who work for that small bodega make below minimum wages and are forced to work even on weekends?

      Although a neighborhood full of large chains is boring, most small bodegas are often reselling that big companies products, the neighborhood bodega is thriving because they overcharge for coca cola and budweiser,
      and who's buying it, hipsters?

  5. @ shmnyc — Many sound, important points of analysis except for a few not-small facts: Walmart, McDonalds. Re-anaylse.
    Since you mention it, giant corporate capitalism has failed to fix our declining (and among wealthy industrialized nations, embarrassing) locomotive system, also our health care, fossil fuel dependency, global climate change, pharmaceutical scams, environmental poisons and depredations etc. The enemy (giant corporations) of your enemy (NO711) isn't your friend. Small business has its weaknesses, as you show. Big business has its strengths for sure — scant comfort but reason to be very afraid. Let's not jump from frying pan to fire. How about strong government free of giant corporate influence?

  6. What is lost in all this is any sense of individual freedom.
    What a quaint concept.
    Once upon a time, believe it or not, people had this thing called property.
    They could then open stores with it, without everyone else imposing their concept of how they want you to run your store, how large it should be, and what prices you should charge.
    And, believe it or not, if people did not want to shop there, i.e. spend their money, they could decide whether they wanted to do this.

    Yes, zoning is an accepted part of the urban environment.
    But all of these issues should start with the premise that, unless there is a compelling reason, ones property should be one's own, and government compulsion on how you should be allowed to dispose of your property should be the last resort (whether or not exercised in the name of the "community").

    Some will call this "wacky Teabagger stuff"
    But who, really, is the radical now?
    Those who have some residual respect for those quaint notions of individuality, or those who will cede their entire lives to self-appointed busybodies, who profess to know what's best for everyone else, and who have no restraint when it comes to coercing others to do what they think they ought to do?

  7. Another NYC Parent

    Well said NYC Parent!! Liberals or the cool new lib know as "progressives" are always preaching tolerance but it is only the specific tolerance that matches their twisted worldview and only when it benefits their causes. The manic attempts to shut down and shame free enterprise (and their neighbors who support them) while using free speech is the ultimate destination in self-serving hypocrisy. The same bored activists and babies in stuy town who think, act and speak like they own the entire property despite the fact they pay virtually nothing in rent. Bitter bitter bitter…. All I hear anymore is a version of adult toddlers whining whah whah whah.

  8. What I find hilarious about this whole issue is that a big catalyst for the current version of this drive was the opening of the 7-11 on Avenue A. Once this happened, there were "complaints" that it was undercutting the local stores on prices of staple items. If there isn't a better argument for now allowing anyone to open a store (chain or not), I really can't think of one. Competition is a good thing.

  9. Your blog explaining all the main points very awesomely. I searched many blog but your blog is one of nice in many blogs. Thanks for share this information with us.

  10. Once upon a time, believe it or not, people had this thing called property.
    They could then open stores with it, without everyone else imposing their concept of how they want you to run your store, how large it should be, and what prices you should charge.
    And, believe it or not, if people did not want to shop there, i.e. spend their money, they could decide whether they wanted to do this.

  11. Thanks for the guidelines of your post . The place else could I get that type of info written in such an ideal way? I have a undertaking that I am simply now operating on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such information.

  12. “A pessimist is a man who thinks everybody is as nasty as himself, and hates them for it.” http://www.mumbairock.com/profiles/blogs/making-o

  13. This is really good published article. Such a great yet interesting post. Thank you very much for sharing this nice stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


seven − = 2

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>