Volume 75, Number 29 | December 7 - 13, 2005

Villager photo by Gary He

Western Beef has sold its lease at 14th St. and Ninth Ave.

Market mainstay Western Beef to leave W. 14th St.

By Roslyn Kramer

Stella McCartney, Jeffrey, La Perla, Alexander McQueen — luxurious shopping havens that define the stunning new face of the Meat Market on 14th St. However, beyond any doubt the biggest customer draw belongs to the old face: Western Beef Inc., standing on the corner of Ninth Ave. in all its stubborn grittiness, a reality check playing off the pricey chic of its rent neighbors.

But Western Beef won’t be around much longer — at least not on 14th St. But in an exception to most sad gentrification stories, the supermarket will be reborn, if not in the Meat Market itself then nearby, the company revealed last week.

“It’s going to be a good thing for the neighborhood — a new store with the same, if not more, variety, depending on how the store lays out,” explained Santino Montalbano, head of Western Beef’s real estate division. The supermarket “wants to keep our present store open and build the other store at the same time,” says Montalbano. “We want to stay in the neighborhood.”

The feeling is mutual. Unique among Downtown supermarkets, Western Beef combines low prices and a vast selection of food and household supplies. Its immediate customer base includes the residents of Robert Fulton Houses, spanning Ninth to Tenth Aves. from 16th to 19th Sts., approximately 920 units with mostly four-person families and some single-person households. The latter tend to be seniors and long-term public-housing residents.

“Basically, most of the people are low-income and the market meets their needs,” according to Miguel Acevedo, a member of Community Board 4. Rent probably takes 50 percent of their income. What’s more, the cost of living is rising and so are gentrification pressures, he added. 

As for residents of Fulton Houses, “everyone shops here,” said Western Beef customer Avonnia Baxter.

Taconic Investment Partners is the “contract holder” for the Western Beef property, according to Taconic spokesperson Paul Pariser. He would go no further, however, beyond saying, “This is a good story, but not one I can talk about now.” 

Acevedo isn’t cheering yet. “Taconic wants to go high end,” he remarked. “Basically they’re forcing Western Beef out.” (On the other hand, some Community Board 2 preservationists are said to be irked that the supermarket let itself be bought out instead of staying put several more years until its lease runs out.)

The next big step, Acevedo of C.B. 4 reveals, is a sit-down with all interested parties, including the incoming Borough President Scott Stringer and other elected officials, so that Western Beef can continue serving the Chelsea community. “If Western Beef goes into a new building it might not be able to afford staying,” he noted. “We’d need the help of city officials to negotiate with any developer.” 

It’s possible to find customers at Western Beef who have traveled from Midtown, Brooklyn, Soho and Tribeca. “The city is boutiqued enough,” asserted Jeff Bozler, who had come from Tribeca.

For some, Western Beef is survival. Horatio St. resident Paul Haug is H.I.V. positive, and although he’s in the AIDS Assistance Program, his medication costs are huge. He considers himself a “low-income hairdresser — if you don’t work at a top-tier salon you don’t make much money.” He held up a package of chicken parts: it cost him $3.99 a pound instead of the $8.99 at other supermarkets.

Several possible locations are mentioned as possibilities for the Western Beef move, including 16th St. east of 10th Ave. behind the Chelsea Market, or west of Ninth Ave. somewhere above the Meat Market. But Western Beef has an eye on one of the empty buildings in the Meat Market proper, although there may not be any unclaimed space, according to Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. 

Meanwhile, so many projects are planned, wished for or in the works for the city-owned square block bounded by Little W. 12th, Washington and Gansevoort Sts. and the West Side Highway — the Dia Museum, the High Line park, meatpackers and just maybe Western Beef, not to mention, a hotel one block north — it gives new meaning to the designation “mixed use.”

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