Lately, we’ve been talking about new arrivals at the Essex Street Market (bagels, ice cream and soup have been added to the retail mix). But — pending legal proceedings — there’s also a noteworthy departure to report; a merchant who’s been part of the market for 23 years.
For the past couple of decades, Carmen Salvador has run Three Brothers Clothing from a small stall on the north end of the market. But her landlord, the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) booted the longtime business at the end of September. Salvador turned to a local non-profit group, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and to MFY Legal Services, which have been helping her fight the move in court; the two sides are scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday.
According to Salvador and Carlina Rivera, director of programming and services at GOLES, city officials have indicated they made the decision because the clothing store has been closed too frequently in recent months. But she argues that the absences were unavoidable — due to several medical issues, including respiratory and thyroid conditions and hypertension. Salvador traveled to the Dominican Republic for surgery, requiring her to close the business for a one-month period. She said market management did not warn her before issuing a written notice in August that she would be required to vacate the retail space. GOLES contends that communication with Salvador, who does not speak much English, was less than ideal; a market security guard apparently acted as an interpreter. City Council member Rosie Mendez spoke with EDC officials on Salvador’s behalf, noting her medical issues.
A spokesperson for the EDC told The Lo-Down yesterday that Salvador’s “permit expired and we elected not to renew it.” The agency declined to discuss the specific reasons since the matter is in litigation. But the spokesperson asserted that Salvador was given “multiple opportunities to rectify the situation,” and that the decision should not have come as a surprise.
At Community Board 3’s October land use committee meeting, Rivera and her boss, GOLES Executive Director Damaris Reyes, both spoke out about the situation. “Right now there are some vendors who have been vendors (at the Essex Street Market) for a very long time and they are being pushed out,” Reyes said, “and we are extremely concerned about the timing of this… This is what we’re beginning to see and it’s one of our fears being realized.”
As previously reported, the Essex Crossing development project, unveiled earlier this fall, includes the relocation of the market to a new, larger facility on the south side of Delancey Street. During negotiations with the city, CB3 fought for and won protections for the vendors; any merchants in good standing at the time of the move will be given first priority in the new market, and their rent schedules will be “commensurate” with what they’re paying prior to the move. The developers are also picking up moving expenses. Reyes is a public member of CB3’s land use committee and was involved in the Seward Park deliberations during the past four years.
City officials are emphatic that the Three Brothers situation has absolutely nothing to do with long-term plans for the market, and should not be seen as a sign that existing vendors are being weeded out. Historically, the market has included all types of vendors, but in recent years new merchants have all been food-related businesses, a vision that will be carried through to the new facility when it opens several years from now. But the EDC spokesperson indicated existing non-food vendors have nothing to fear if they are in good standing. There are only a few of these kinds of businesses remaining, including Aminova’s Barber Shop, Santa Lucia (a religious articles shop) and a store run by the LES Girl’s Club.
Essex Market businesses do not have leases. Over the years, merchants have noted that their contracts offer few protections; the city has a lot of latitude to terminate permits and to decide against renewals. A couple of years ago, the community board panel that helped shape the Seward Park redevelopment plan held several sessions devoted to the market. During those meetings, there was some conversation about establishing a community benefits agreement to protect the vendors in the new project. It’s not a proposal that went anywhere.
From the city’s perspective, merchants have little reason for concern. Delancey Associates, the development team for the Seward Park project, has signed a detailed contract with the city which, among many other things, keeps the market as a publicly-run facility operated by the Economic Development Corp. The EDC spokesperson told us the city is passionate about upholding the market’s legacy as a place in which products are available at various “price points,’ rather than creating an exclusive, high-end-only shopping experience. As an indication of a continuing commitment to the current vendors, the Essex Crossing developers are sitting down with the merchants this week to hear their thoughts about the design of the new facility. Last year, as the Seward Park project began to come together, the vendors created a merchant association.
As for Carmen Salvador, she says the loss of her affordable space (which she rented for about $360/month) has been a big blow. Her son has been helping with rent during the past couple of months, but that’s not something he can do indefinitely. “My 23 years at the market should count for something,” Salvador said.
We’ll let you know the outcome of Thursday’s court hearing.