The Lower East Side’s Chain-ging Landscape

Written by Alissa Fleck on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown.


How the expansion of chain stores in this old neighborhood is impacting life for everyone

7-Eleven is the largest retailer in the world by store count, and a new 7-Eleven opens somewhere in the world approximately every three hours.

Corporate representatives from 7-Eleven attended a recent meeting at the Seward Park Housing Co-op to address residents’ questions and concerns about the store opening soon on Grand Street, a meeting which spurred further discussion of the philosophies behind chain store expansion in the city.OTDT-7 eleven

This 7-Eleven corporate store arrives on the heels of the extremely controversial proposed 7-Eleven on Avenue A, which prompted the ‘NO 7-Eleven’ movement, now 600 members strong. However, attitudes surrounding chain store proliferation differ downtown depending on who — and where — you ask.

Scott Teachenor, the market manager for all 7-Elevens in New York State, along with his colleagues, attempted to allay concerns.

He explained the 7-Eleven business model is such that small business owners generally operate stores, something which should ideally add appeal for members of a community replete with small businesses.

Reactions were mixed among community members, though most who lived in the area seemed to partially welcome the store, or were at least resigned to its arrival.

One resident’s comment seemed to resonate most with the rest of the crowd: “What added value can you bring us as a community?”

“New York City speaks 800 languages,” added Eric Mandelbaum, acting president of the Board of Directors of Seward Park House Corporation. “There will be a need for Kosher, sushi and kimchi — how much do you want to become a flagship of the Lower East Side as projected through Seward Park Housing Corp?”

“I can tailor stores to my communities quickly and efficiently — if I need kimchi you need to let me know,” Teachenor said.

Dave Sonenberg, a young man who lives in the Seward B Tower and is pursuing a Masters degree in nutrition, lamented the recent loss of the neighborhood’s only health food store.

“That is an underserved need of the community,” said Sonenberg, who hopes to see 7-Eleven take on some of this burden.

One resident asked what made the 24-hour chain choose this particular area, pointing out there are no students or barflies — as near the Cooper Union store — but mostly people who will be sleeping in the middle of the night.

Andrew Shelhouse, the senior real estate representative at 7-Eleven said deciding where a store should be developed is done according to a predetermined plan.

“A lot of areas are different but can support a store and there’s a need there. We look at demographics, population, vehicular and foot traffic, subway counts, bus stops, etc.”

Still, there was some strong dissent over the store’s impending presence.

According to Rob Hollander, who blogs about life on the Lower East Side, “The corporation doesn’t care at all about the local community, only about the foot traffic, regardless where it comes from.”

Ingrid Kellerman of “NO 7-Eleven” asked Teachenor and his colleagues, “Do you care that you are killing little, local businesses?”

While Kellerman may have been in the minority at this particular meeting, she later explained her stance as a resident of the East Village: “We are not happy about the NYU expansion in the East Village, as well as new condominiums. We are connected to the history of our Village – that’s what gives it this special flavor of rock n’ roll. It’s an arty, poetic, anarchist, experimental playground.”

Hollander explained residents of the co-op at the meeting who were welcoming of a chain store most likely fear rising amenity costs and know they can count on a chain store to help supplant costs unlike former “deadbeat” commercial residents.

Nonetheless, some co-op residents expressed, less vehemently, similar concern that the 7-Eleven would hurt mom and pop stores in the area, particularly pizzerias.

In other areas downtown, for instance Avenue A and 11th Street, a 7-Eleven is much less welcome by locals who see no reason for it to be there.

Hollander noted the difference: “Loisaida/Alphabet City has little chain presence…So the imminent threat of a 7-Eleven seems to have touched a nerve. We still have a small-community feel….there are many residents who came here back in the 1970s to get away from the corporate world. This was a refuge from mainstream commerce and remote corporate control.”

“We’re a distinctive community and chain stores aren’t part of our sense of self-identity,” he said.

Indeed the Seward Park 7-Eleven, as well as the one being fought tooth and nail in Alphabet City, are just examples of a much larger trend, what Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club and “No Chains on the Bowery” calls the “Pringle-ization” of the Lower East Side.

“Folks here don’t want to be Pringle-ized,” said Holman. “We refuse to fit inside a cardboard tube. 7-Eleven does not believe in neighborhoods, they are a global corporate construct,” he said.

Kellerman said she’s concerned the effects if this is permitted to continue in Manhattan.

“New York is so unique — it will be so sad if this big city looks like any other big gentrified city in the world.”

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