Diem Boyd has lived on Rivington Street for 13 years, and in the East Village for seven years before that. Her block is pretty peaceful during the day, but come nighttime, this congested stretch just west of Essex Street is a non-stop party zone. The tenement she calls home is directly across the street from the Hotel on Rivington and its ground-floor lounge open to the street. Lower East Side hot spots Spitzer’s Corner and Fat Baby bookend the block. “Starting on Wednesday night from about 9 o’clock until Sunday morning at 4 a.m..” she says, (her street) “is unlivable. The crowds of people, the noise, the club doors open, the music blasting out, people congregating. There’s vomit and urine on every doorstep. It’s like a war zone, really, like we’re under siege.”
So last month when Boyd learned another establishment was planned for 106 Rivington, right next door, she decided it was time to fight back. Along with a few others, Boyd headed for her first community board meeting, prepared to protest the proposal which she felt would ruin what was left of her neighborhood. The battle did not end that night but became the catalyst for a new organization, LES Dwellers, “a grassroots, community organization trying to salvage what is left of the once vibrant, culturally diverse, and sometimes irreverent community.”
Boyd and other members of the fledgling group are planning to make a big impression next Monday evening, when Community Board 3’s SLA Committee takes up the 106 Rivington application for a second time. In September, the applicants agreed to withdraw when some residents in the immediate vicinity of the new Latin restaurant said they had not been consulted about the proposal (more on that in a moment). A separate community meeting September 26 became an emotionally charged, racially tinged standoff with supporters of the restaurant. So next week’s CB3’s hearing is shaping up to be quite a battle.
The new venue is being planned by the family that owns the E&S Wholesome Foods and Stop 1 Deli locations throughout the neighborhood. The application for a full liquor license indicates the restaurant would be open until 4 a.m., would include 45 tables/110 seats and two bars. The applicants met with Elvin Nunez of the Rivington Block Association, who offered his support. Boyd thought she and others living near 106 Rivington would eventually have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with the owners, but the followup meeting, she says, quickly became confrontational. More than 80 people, supporters of the restaurant, came to Community Board 3’s office, many of them alleging racism against Latino-owned business owners. Among the attendees was Wave Chan, the Tea Party member challenging Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in November’s election.
Boyd says the tense meeting was a little bewildering and upsetting, but she’s got a “thick skin” and is not going to give up the fight so easily. “We’re in this for the long haul,” Boyd asserts. “I’m not moving.” In the past several days she and another member of LES Dwellers did finally meet face to face with the applicants and their lawyer. The organization offered to drop its opposition if the owners agreed to downgrade their application, requesting a beer and wine license only, and if they promised to close at midnight and to operate as a “fine dining” establishment. Boyd says the proposal was rejected, after the applicants insisted they could not survive as a business without a full bar.
Boyd says it’s frustrating trying to get a handle on the actual plans of applicants, who she believes tend to conceal their real intentions. In this particular case, the owners have presented a fairly ambitious food menu and have argued they’d be providing high quality Latin food in an historically Puerto Rican/Dominican area lacking in this type of cuisine. Boyd is skeptical and wants the operators to establish a track record. “Prove yourself, if you’re really a legitimate restaurant… that you’re not going to have lines out the door, there’s not going to be a dj.”
The fight over 106 Rivington, Boyd insists, is the first, but definitely not the last cause LES Dwellers will be taking up. “We are really motivated,” she says. “We are fed up. A lot of us have lived here for so long and what has happened (to this neighborhood) is heartbreaking to us.”
The organization has set up a web site and posted provocative flyers around the neighborhood. As a result of the group’s early activism, Boyd says, residents on other blocks facing similar problems have begun to take notice. For example, she indicates, people concerned about controversial nightlife operator Rob Shamlian’s latest project (Tiny Fork, 167 Orchard Street), reached out recently for assistance in starting a petition drive. Boyd says the goal is not to drive every bar out of the Lower East Side. “We want to invite more real estate diversity. It’s not that we don’t want bars. We just want responsible restaurants and bars,” she explains.
We tried contacting the 106 Rivington Street applicants, as well as Elvin Nunez of the Rivington Block Association, but there has been no response. Community Board 3’s SLA Committee meets next Monday, October 15, 6:30 p.m., at the JASA/Green building, 200 East 5th Street.