More on the Grand Street Chain Store Debate

7-Eleven has its eye on the Grand Spa location, at 403 Grand Street.

Here’s an update on the great chain store brouhaha on Grand Street. A week ago, residents of the sprawling Seward Park Cooperative began circulating an online petition to stop their board from signing leases with 7-Eleven and a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee. Tonight, board members will meet to discuss the situation, which (in typical fashion) has divided the shareholders of the large housing complex east of Essex Street.

Frank Durant, Seward Park’s general manager, declined to comment until the board makes up its mind. Eric Mandelbaum, the president of the board, has not responded to an interview request.   A new board member, John Ryan, told us in a statement he is “not a fan of having chain stores in our commercial spaces” but since the co-op is “potentially writing off several hundred thousand dollars annually from non-paying commercial tenants” all options (including the possibility of leasing to chain outlets) needed to be considered.

In the past week, shareholder Auguste Olson’s petition has garnered 539 signatures (Seward Park has more than 1700 apartments; not all of those who have signed live in the co-op).  She has also assembled a group of like-minded shareholders who have begun informal conversations with small businesses who might have interest in taking the retail spaces.

In an interview last week, Olson said her chief concern is “bringing stores to Grand Street that add value to the neighborhood.”  24-hour stores offering unhealthy food options, she said, are inconsistent with the “ethics, the family values that the co-op is based on.”  Olson said she understands the importance of attracting tenants who can pay their rents; “I just think they chose the wrong stores,” she explained.

A spirited conversation has erupted on neighborhood message boards in the past few days. Some residents have argued that the chains would offer services people in the neighborhood want and provide the co-op with much needed revenue.  Others have suggested that pleas for small “mom-and-pop”  stores (code in their eyes for gentrification) are  misguided in a neighborhood that is becoming more affluent but is still predominantly middle and low income.

Dunkin' Donuts, 140 Delancey Street.

A board member who requested anonymity confirmed the basic details of the 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts offers, saying that the outcry from shareholders came as a surprise.  The space being eyed by 7-Eleven is currently occupied by the Grand Spa. The co-op is in a “collections phase” with the business for unpaid rent.  The Dunkin’ Donuts would take over the space recently vacated by Roots & Vines, a coffee shop run by a Seward Park resident.  Upon closing the business, owner Natalie Krodel explained to The Lo-Down that she simply wasn’t making it financially after almost nine years in business.

The co-op’s retail woes mirror those faced by other landlords on the Lower East Side.  The Seward Park board recently voted in support of the LES Business Improvement District’s proposed expansion beyond its Orchard Street core area.  Today, BID Executive Director Bob Zuckerman pointed out that chains have not been a major factor below Houston Street up until now. The BID has not taken an official position on the presence of chain stores on the Lower East Side. It has, however, opposed “big box” chains from opening in the neighborhood.

There’s a broader context surrounding the debate about the chains on Grand Street.  The city is inching closer to redeveloping the underutilized parcels across the street from the cooperative as a mixed use (residential and retail) complex.  While the Seward Park Project is still several years away from becoming reality, major developers are already assembling proposals not only for the city owned sites, but surrounding properties as well.  A person familiar with the board room conversations acknowledged that the co-op has been approached by developers but said there is no consensus on the board about how to proceed.

This afternoon, we checked in with a Grand Street business owner, who’s seen it all in the past 40 years. John DeBlasio of Seward Park Liquors (on the Lower East Side since 1973) called the new development a “game changer” which is already having an impact.  From a personal perspective, DeBlasio (who grew up in the neighborhood) said he’s concerned a 7-Eleven would devastate his lotto sales, which make up a significant portion of the liquor store’s profits.  In a more general sense, DeBlasio said he’s seen numerous independent businesses come and go in the retail strip stretching from Essex to Clinton streets. “I hate to say it but the independents just aren’t profitable enough to pay the rent,” he said.  DeBlasio speculated that at least one chain store is inevitable.

Grand Street is obviously not alone in the battle against corporate retail. Earlier today, EV Grieve posted news of a petition drive aimed at barring chain stores in the East Village.  Meanwhile,  big chains are leaving little doubt about their intentions in Manhattan, as this week’s New York Magazine explains. In the story, sub-titled, “How 7-Eleven plans to put the bodega out of business,”  we learn that the corporate giant plans to open 100 retail locations in the city by 2017.

 

10 comments to More on the Grand Street Chain Store Debate

  • guest

    Thanks for the thoughtful and comprehensive piece. I might just be seeing what I want to see, but I think it’s significant that, so far, the comments reacting to the New York Magazine article about the coming 7-Eleven invasion are resoundingly negative. I think few people in New York City (except, apparently, in this neighborhood) are particularly eager to have our city taken over further by chain stores.

  • Malachy

    I would prefer a Trader Joe’s in place of Fine Fare. The Lower-Lower East Side suffers from a dearth of choices, the chains may increase foot traffic for other stores with niche products. While I may get a breakfast sandwich from D D – I will still likely get my coffee from Pushcart Coffee or Cafe Grumpy. There is no quality pizza joint below lower Clinton Street, quality Chicken or Falafel joints. Below Madison Street has a lack of access to affordable healthy food and I’ve always wondered why local politicians don’t initiate a Food Cart zone for this underserved population who crowd into McDonalds and American versions of Chinese Food.

  • Get a life!

    I have been following this story an I would like to share my thoughts.
    1. I find it very interesting that Augusta Olson, the Seward Park shareholder who started the petition, is a areal estate broker. She is clearly preventing 7-Eleven and Dunkin Donuts from opening up as she has her own personal agenda to make a brokerage commission.
    2. About 30% of petition signers are duplicate signers.
    3. I am amazed by the idea so many share holders rather have ” mom and pop” shops open, pay below market rent, owe hundreds of thousand of dollars in back rent, and then close, versus having a strong tenant pay market rent and stay in business. YOU, THE SHAREHOLDERS MONEY!
    4. Why weren’t members of Seward protesting Donut Plant from opening/expanding? Aren’t they an “unhealthy food option”?
    5. Most 7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts, Subway’s etc. are “mom and pops”. Thy are local hardworking business owners who own a few franchises. 

  • Guest

    1) There are over 20 shareholders in the working group trying to attract new tenants.  “Get a Life” we’d love to have you join the effort.  Would you be interested in calling a few potential tenants and walking them through the neighborhood?

    2) A household may contain more than one resident, which in turn leads to having more than one petitioner per address.

    3) The entire city is made of entrepreneurial enterprises, many of which are local and successful.  Mom & pop need not imply or infer “money losing”, “below market”, or “destined to fail”.

    4) Donut Plant is the biggest traffic driver we have on this commercial strip.  Why cut off the flow when we can leverage it in new ways?

    5) The Seven-11 in question was a corporate location, not a franchise.  

  • Aolson

    Get a life!  What a clever headline. Attacking me personally has nothing to do with our efforts….but if thats all you got……
    First, my name is Auguste, not AugustaSecondly, before making accusations, get your facts straight.  I am in no way making a commission and have been doing all of this for the benefit of our community, ask anyone!Also, duplicate signatures arent presented to the board; we have taken out all the fakes and duplicates on the lists that we provide them. 30%?,more like 2-3%, and thats not something we can control.  Its our jobs as collectors to filter out them before presenting; which we did.We are not ruling out chain stores, we are just asking that we consider alternative chains and mom and pop before making a decision.  We need to study this community and make sure that we bring in is bringing value and benefit to us, not hurting us in any way.  We have many “chain” stores that we have been in talks with, so to say we only want mom and pop in ludicrous.  Get your facts straight before you rant!
    -Auguste

  • Get a life!

    1. No. We hired a great management company to do this for us. They did their job and found great tenants who will pay market rent.
    2. Most of duplicates are same name and same apartments.
    3. Historically, national tenants will pay higher rents and stay in business longer.
    4. According to petition, you did not want Dunkin Donuts and 7-Eleven as they are an ” unhealthy food option”. Donut Plant, is  also an unhealthy food option. 5. Even better. Finally someone who will actually pay market rent and not be in default after six months.

  • Deirdre

    Hmmm. . . Wondering If get a life is the SP board member with the same first initial. Sure sounds like him. If so, perhaps he should follow his own advice . Here is a thought – stop being so nasty and listen to shareholders . Whether you agree with her or not, personally attacking someone for voicing an opinion is immature and counterproductive. Learn to disagree like a grown up or just be quiet. You add nothing to the process.

  • guest

    It’s shameful to smear people who are arguing against having the Seward Park storefronts occupied by
    chain stores as doing so for some kind of perceived personal benefit…it’s an issue
    that’s important to the neighborhood and to the city as a whole, and I and many other people appreciate their efforts…

    Since the Seward Park commercial properties seem to have been badly managed since the dawn of time (especially given former board members and their nepotistic and disastrous arrangements), it’s a bit hard to believe that the financial health of the co-ops lives or dies on whether two storefronts are occupied…and by whom. And it is completely ridiculous to describe the Doughnut Plant (the only visibly thriving business on that strip, one that has become a destination for people all over the city, and one that exemplifies the concept of “artisanal”) as a purveyor of “junk food.”

  • David

    I also think these two stores would encourage lots of random double=parked impulse car drivers to stop and fill their urges.  I also notice that most litter tends to be from fast food stores, at least on country roads when biking. Why is that? Drunks eat fast food is why. And kids.  

  • Abc

    The Board Member with the same first initial is not the writer.  I think it is the reverse, that a Board member may have leaked this info., otherwise how would this have happened given that DD and 7-11 were already approved. There should be an investigation to thi. I also ask… why the Doughnut Plant and Liquor Store were allowed to expand recently and Kossars was allowed to be bought by SP Board members years back…how double faced. What I do want to know is how long will the current tenants keep their rents low by keeping out higher paying tenants?