Last night, 7-Eleven corporate executives came face-to-face with Lower East Side residents, some of whom were previously determined to keep the ubiquitous convenience store from moving into a storefront at 403 Grand St. They received a mixed reception.
Last summer, the Seward Park Cooperative, which owns a commercial strip east of Essex Street, signed a long-term lease with 7-Eleven, after a group of residents opposed to the presence of more chain stores on the LES unsuccessfully tried to find an alternative tenant. Construction finally got underway a few weeks ago. The corporation, in the midst of a major New York City expansion, came to hear feedback about potential products to be sold in the store and other issues.
The gathering in a co-op community room was led by Scott Teachenor, who oversees around 150 stores in New York City and surrounding areas. He said the Grand Street location will be a corporate training center and, as such, will never become a franchise operation. Because it’s going to be a training site, the store, he said, “will be held to an extremely high standard.” A July 25 opening date is anticipated, although that could be pushed back depending on the pace of construction.
Last year, the co-op board was on the verge of making deals with both 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts when residents rebelled and launched a petition drive against the chains. The group was given a period of time to find different tenants. They successfully recruited Tribeca Pediatrics for the space Dunkin’ Donuts coveted. But various difficulties doomed the search for a local tenant to take the storefront 7-Eleven is now renovating, the former home of the Grand Spa. Since the controversy ended, a new group has cropped up, “No 7-Eleven,” which has been fighting chain stores on Avenue A and at other north of Houston Street locations. While they had a contingent in attendance last night, most of those present appeared to have moved past last summer’s ordeal and were focused on what can be done to shape the store’s product offerings.
7-Eleven officials said they chose the Grand Street location after analyzing neighborhood demographics, foot traffic, subway access, etc. “It’s part of a pre-determined plan,” said the company’s real estate specialist. “We knew we wanted to be in the area… it’s simple science. There are a lot of people here.” One woman in the audience, a member of the “No 7-Eleven” organization asked, “do you care that you’ll kill the local businesses… do you care about a community that doesn’t want 7-Eleven?”
In response, Teachenor said, “absolutely, it is not our goal to put anyone out of business.” Referencing 7-Eleven’s aggressive plan to convert neighborhood bodegas, he emphasized, “any bodega owner can come to me, hang a 7-Eleven sign in the window” and become part of the extended corporate family. He noted that a corner bodega, near a 7-Eleven, went out of business on 8th Avenue, but said the chain’s presence in any given location has seldom led to the demise of quality local businesses. “The harsh reality of the world,” he said, is that gentrification is occurring and landlords are “raising rents precipitously (forcing displacement) and it’s not my fault that rents are being raised.” Another official asserted, “we bring up the grade of retail (in communities). We’re new, we’re clean, we’re bright… (local stores) have no one to blame but themselves… they’ve got to bring their game up.”
A woman in the audience argued that 7-Eleven was failing to understand the neighborhood. “This is not the Upper East Side,” she said. “We don’t want our bodegas nice and shiny. The Lower East Side is gritty and that’s the way we like it.” But there were alternative points of view. Another woman said she is very happy to have 7-Eleven on Grand Street. Suggesting that the prices in the local bodega are sky high and that many products at Fine Fare (the grocery store located on Clinton Street) are still on the shelves long after their expiration date, she said, “these other stores are going to have to shape up. If they go out of business it’s their own fault.”
Teachenor said every effort will be made to tailor the store’s product offerings to the neighborhood (he’s already had some conversations with local rabbis). He didn’t miss an opportunity to point out that slurpees are kosher. Several residents pleaded with 7-Eleven to offer healthy options, including fresh produce and to keep sugary drinks and processed foods to a minimum. One speaker, a student pursuing a nutrition degree, praised the “fresh to go” section in the 7-Eleven on Delancey Street but advocated for expanded offerings at the Grand Street store. Teachenor said, “it’s already in the plan” to offer more fresh foods. A few residents urged 7-Eleven to avoid selling pizza, saying it would harm independent pizza shops in the neighborhood. Teachenor rejected this idea, saying he found it tough to believe that the chain’s pizza (while a quality product for $1) would pose a threat to any respectable New York slice.
A couple of residents asks about 7-Eleven’s signage and bright lighting, expressing the hope that both would be toned down on Grand Street. Frank Durant, Seward Park’s general manager, said he had already required the chain to reduce the size of its canopy. The corporate executives said they were amenable to suggestions about the storefront.
In the end, Teachenor said he was always available to listen to the community. He said the store wants to be part of the neighborhood and would, for example, be willing to help sponsor community events and support worthy causes. Teachenor indicated there will be a regular manager who customers will be able to contact. In the meantime, opinions and suggestions can be routed through 7-Eleven customer service.