As plans for the former Pathmark site on Cherry Street begin to take shape, a local non-profit is encouraging residents to buy their groceries at small-scale stores throughout the Lower East Side.
Yesterday the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and local activists gathered at a news conference to announce the release of a grocery guide listing about 80 bodegas, fish and meat markets, produce stands and other local food-related businesses. More on that in a moment. First, some context and a bit of new information about the secretive plans for a large-scale residential tower on the Pathmark site, and a grocery store that is expected to open in the ground floor of the new building.
As we reported earlier in the month, Gary Barnett’s Extell Development has filed paperwork for the demolition of the single-story grocery store. Representatives of Extell have been meeting with some local stakeholders in recent weeks in preparation for a construction project that is certain to transform the predominantly low-income community alongside the East River. It has been clear since news broke one year ago that the luxury “as-of-right” development would be very big. At yesterday’s press event, Two Bridges President Victor Papa began to telegraph just how big. During recent conversations, he said, Extell has suggested the tower could rise above 70 stories, dwarfing any other building in the neighborhood. “It’s an incredible height, which is astounding me,” Papa said. While he has held out hope in the past that Pathmark (a division of A&P) would one day decide to come back to the neighborhood, Papa added, “the market (in the Extell building) will probably not be affordable to the local community.”
The Pathmark store opened in 1983 at 227 Cherry St., part of the former Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area. “We gave Pathmark the opportunity to be in this community. After 30 years, they chose to leave (and may or may not come back),” Papa said. “In some ways, (the grocery guide is about) declaring our independence from large supermarkets… It’s meant to introduce Two Bridges residents to local stores, which are rich resources (in the community).”
The guide is the first phase of an initiative that grew out of a community questionnaire and a small business survey conducted by consultant James Johnson-Piett of Urbane Development, a firm that focuses on inner-city food access. A grant from DesignNYC enabled Two Bridges to link up with TODA, a design firm, for the production of the paper guide, which is available in English, Chinese and Spanish. Next year, there will be a digital version and Johnson-Piett said a concerted effort would be made to work with businesses on improving the quality of their offerings to meet local needs. One issue that will need to be overcome: a cultural divide that exists within the community. Non-Chinese residents, for example, tend to be hesitant about shopping in Chinese groceries (one just opened up the block from the former Pathmark location). Education and outreach efforts will attempt to narrow the divide.
Several local tenant leaders attended yesterday’s news conference and have been involved in the development of the guide. Sheila Hart, co-president of the Lands End II tenant association, called the guide a good first step. But she emphasized the need for a new, full-service grocery to replace Pathmark. Lots of people are going to Brooklyn or way uptown to shop at affordable markets. Hart said a Pathmark-style store or a Key Food are among the types of full-scale groceries the local community needs. Many existing options, she argued, are just too expensive.
While Papa said he strongly suspects that Extell is thinking in terms of an upscale market, Two Bridges is still looking at other options. As we have reported previously, the organization and Settlement Housing Fund are planning to build an affordable housing project adjacent to the Extell tower. Papa said the partners are exploring whether an affordable supermarket could be incorporated into the proposed development.
The grocery guide is available at Two Bridges’ offices, located at 275 Cherry St. and 82 Rutgers St. After the holidays, it will be distributed more widely throughout the neighborhood.