Volume 77 / Number 30 - Dec. 27 - Jan.2, 2007
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Photo by Ginny Browne

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, speaking into microphone of electric bullhorn, joined residents on Dec. 20 in their call to save the Cherry St. Pathmark store.

Residents rally to save Cherry St. Pathmark

By Julie Shapiro

Waving colorful signs and shouting even more colorful slogans, 75 people turned out last Thursday to protest the rumored closure of the Cherry St. Pathmark store.

The crowd gathered in front of Pathmark with a banner reading “S.O.S. Save Our Supermarket” and alternated between spirited chants and speakers.

“If you take this away from us, where are we going to shop?” a mother of four shouted into the megaphone. “We’ve got nothing. … We cannot afford to live around here anymore.”

Marquis Jenkins, the rally’s emcee, stood atop a stepladder riling up the crowd. His voice getting hoarse, Jenkins lead the crowd in chants.

“Whose streets?” he called out. “Our streets!” they shouted back. “Whose Pathmark? Our Pathmark! Whose community? Our community!”

“This is a symbol of what’s happening in our community,” Jenkins told the crowd. “Say ‘No’ to new development.”

The sale of Pathmark to A & P became final earlier this month, and rumors of development on the site have worried customers all fall. The store sits beneath the Manhattan Bridge and adjacent to several public housing projects. The protesters were worried about what they see as the worst-case scenario: high-rise luxury condos.

“We don’t need no more condos in this neighborhood,” Eric Latorre called into the megaphone. “It’ll be a sad [day] if we see a wrecking ball smash this place down.” Latorre, who lives at Pike and Cherry Sts., has been coming to Pathmark since he was 16 years old, and especially likes that the supermarket is open 24 hours.

“We see gentrification and luxury developing everywhere,” shouted Esther Wang, from the Chinatown Tenants Union. “Say ‘No’ to the closing of Pathmark, say ‘No’ to the loss of affordable services and say ‘No’ to gentrification.”

In a separate effort, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver met with A & P executives two weeks ago to advocate for the supermarket.

“I let them know that this community wants us to retain a Pathmark supermarket,” Silver told The Villager. “What we need is more, not less.”

When Silver asked the execs what the chances are that the supermarket would remain open, “they didn’t say,” he said.

“They understood I was not looking to wait months,” Silver added. “It was clear to them that this was something important.”

A & P and Pathmark did not return calls for comment.

Back at the rally, Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, took the megaphone to tell the crowd that she, too, has shopped at Pathmark over the years.

“The Pathmark supermarket is much more than just a place to buy food,” Gotbaum said. “This Pathmark is an anchor for the community.”

Paul Nagle, of City Councilmember Alan Gerson’s Office, attended to represent Gerson, who was home sick in bed. Nagle told the crowd not to take Gerson’s absence as a sign of his apathy.

“He’s really down with this cause,” Nagle told them. A representative of State Senator Martin Connor also attended.

When Jamel Williams took the stage with his saxophone, someone from the audience called out, “Play a funeral tune for Donald Trump!” Instead, Williams played the more festive “Winter Wonderland.”

Later, Williams accompanied several of the organizers in an original composition, “For the Holidays at Pathmark,” sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The lyrics included a true love who shops at Pathmark, bringing home 11 pounds of green beans, 10 cans of eggnog, and so on. Rather than the partridge in the pear tree, the chorus reached a crescendo at “No development luxury!”

After rumors circulated about Pathmark’s land being up for sale to developers, OUR (Organizing and Uniting Residents) Waterfront Alliance, a project of several Lower East Side and Chinatown groups, decided to get involved. Pathmark officials, though, wouldn’t give them any information.

“We kept coming up against a brick wall,” said Ginny Browne, economic development organizer for Good Old Lower East Side, or GOLES. “So, rather than wake up and read in the paper that it was sold, we wanted to be proactive, get out there, and put pressure on Pathmark.”

Pathmark is “an example of what we stand to lose” in the East River waterfront’s development, Browne said. While Browne is excited about the open space in the waterfront plan, she doesn’t want to see the new pavilions along F.D.R. Dr. filled with high-end cafes and expensive retail and services.

“We want it to be developed in a way that speaks to the needs of the current community,” which includes the neighborhood’s 30,000 public housing residents, Browne said. “We need to fight for development that meets our needs, not development that pushes us out.”

Ed Novak, 71, who was born in the Two Bridges district and has lived on Henry St. for the last 53 years, said the other local supermarkets are terrible.

Novak recalled the neighborhood’s strong Jewish, Italian and Irish population, but the crowd at Thursday’s rally was predominantly Chinese. Several speakers used translators, and most of the signs included both Chinese and English.

The chants focused on unity and mirrored the crowd’s diversity.

“Black, Asian, Latino, white,” the crowd shouted. “Communities together, fight, fight, fight!”

Paul Newell, of Division St., has lived Downtown his whole life and told the crowd that not all of the neighborhood’s changes are bad.

“But when development comes and takes away access to affordable food, it’s not O.K.,” Newell said. “This is madness. It’s poor planning, poor government, and it’s not helping our community.”

Sisters Annie Woo, 21, and Diana Woo, 20, who live in Rutgers Houses, were home from college on Christmas break when they heard Pathmark might be closing.

“We’re at Pathmark all the time, especially when there are really good sales,” Diana said as she chalked “Save Pathmark” messages on the sidewalk. At Cornell University, she has to take a 20-minute bus ride to get food, and she always boasts to her friends about the supermarket back home that is right across the street.

“It’s convenient and really affordable,” said Annie, who goes to SUNY-Binghamton. “I don’t know where else to go.”

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