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Seward Park Liquors Loses Grand Street Space After Co-Op Board Votes

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Seward Park Liquors is losing a space it has occupied at 393 Grand St. for more than four decades.

The owner of the shop, John DeBlasio, has been locked in a tense battle with his landlord, the Seward Park Cooperative, for several months. Following a vote by the board of directors, DeBlasio received a letter today stating that his bid for a lease renewal had been turned down and that the co-op intended to rent the store to another business.

Back in February, DeBlasio posted a notice on his front door, urging residents of the cooperative to lobby board members on his behalf. “I have spent my whole life building a successful business, and I do not want to see it pulled out from under me,” he wrote.  DeBlasio called the decision to force him out “immoral.” He later retracted some of the statements contained in the notice.

The co-op is negotiating final leases terms with another liquor store operator, one that has reportedly run several successful businesses in New York City. Co-op management declined to name the new operator, since the terms of an agreement are still being worked out. DeBlasio offered to pay $90/square foot.

In an interview this afternoon, board member Darcey Gerstein said it was a split vote last night, and a tough call for many of her colleagues. There were financial considerations, she noted, saying there have been difficulties in the past with other commercial spaces owned by the cooperative (non-payment of rent, failed businesses, etc.)  She added, however, that board members were convinced that the new business will offer a higher level of service to the community.

“We value long-term tenancy,” said Gerstein, but it is also “the board’s responsibility to make the best decision for our shareholders, to take into account the price per square foot (a tenant is willing to pay), as well as the value and service to the community now and in the future.”

Some members of the board took exception to DeBlasio’s public letter, citing factual inaccuracies and, as Gerstein put it, “potentially libelous statements” against the co-op and Greenthal, its management company. Others wanted the removal of a lotto machine at the front of the store and the sale of miniature bottles of liquor. This is a move DeBlasio resisted.

DeBlasio said today that he is “disappointed and flabbergasted by the board’s decision” and alarmed that his livelihood is being threatened. DeBlasio said he believes the board has made a series of bad decisions, impacting small businesses and residents, “that are not in the best interests of the community.” He added, “I feel I have served this community to the best of my ability.”

DeBlasio said he’s considering legal action against the co-op.

The new operator plans to lease the front portion of the space, while the neighboring gallery, Ramiken Crucible, will take over the back portion of the store. DeBlasio has been without a lease for a few months. He’s been paying month-to-month during lease negotiations. The changes in commercial leases, we’re told, will mean $60-70,000 in additional revenue annually for the co-op.

Editor’s note: Seward Park Liquors advertises in The Lo-Down from time-to-time. The author of this story is a resident of the Seward Park Co-op. It is The Lo-Down’s policy to disclose whenever there’s a potential conflict of interest in any story.

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