Sunday, June 19, 2016

Score it as a win: This neighborhood gets to keep its supermarket (for now, at least)


I can't tell you who did what, but whoever did what, hats off to Senator Espaillat, Councilmembers Levine and Rodriguez, the Hudson Heights Owners Coalition, Community Board 13, and whoever else did whatever it took to achieve this happy result.

by Ken

It may not sound like that big a story -- a neighborhood gets to keep its supermarket -- especially when you consider that what we here in Manhattan call a "supermarket" is so un-super, Manhattan real-estate prices being what they are, that folks accustomed to supermarkets that spread out over an acre or two would take one look at it and ask what the fuss is. But the fuss is, those Folks Up There on the Hill came this close to losing their only place to shop for the daily necessities that most of us take for granted. And by "this close," I mean it was essentially a done deal: Bye-bye, supermarket; hello, whatever. I forget what exactly it was, teh intended "upgrade" planned for the premises. For our purposes, just imagine one of the many sorts of business that was going to yield the landlord a heap more rent.

Only now it's not going to happen, at least for now. I'm not attending the gathering to which this e-mail yesterday from Councilman Levine invited me, because it's not actually my neighborhood. If you look at the map, you'll say, "But hey, it's right over there, you can practically touch it." What the map doesn't show you is that it's way up on top of a mountain of a hill, and if you don't think it's "way up," I invite you to walk up the giant stairway at 187th Street that links the People Up There to us folks down here in the valley. I've actually done it a couple of times, walked up those stairs, before coming to the decision that "down" is OK on occasion, but "up" is henceforth out of consideration, especially since there is an alternative: the escalator in the 190 Street subway station that links the People Up There to the subway down here. (While we're on geography, I might point out that that subway station at its closest reach doesn't reach anywhere close to 190th Street, because it didn't get built where it was originally intended, but that's another story.)

It may not look like much, but for the people in the hood, this place is their lifeblood.

It's a nice neighborhood up there on top of the hill, where historic Fort Washington once stood, and in recent years the neighborhood has been trending upward scale-wise. It's even taken on a name of sorts, or leastwise the real-estate folks have tried to give it one: "Hudson Heights." But people still have to shop, and while they've got some nice shopping places on the small commercial strip of 187th Street, they've got only one place to shop for the things you would normally turn to a supermarket for, and one day the People Up There woke up to find that their supermarket was counting down to doom. The way I remember it, the landlord wasn't even talking to the supermarket leaseholder about a new lease -- though probably, given the numbers such a lease would have entailed, there wouldn't have been much to talk about.

For some modern folks a neighborhood supermarket may not be such a big deal anymore, when eating is mostly done via eating out or local takeout, and "shopping" for everythng from foie gras to toilet paper can be done online thanks to the warehouses and truck fleets of entities like We Got Your Stuff, maybe combined with the occasional "shopping" expedition to the nearest Hole Foods or Traitor Joe's. Still, for the rest of us, however, there's no substitute for a place, a brick-and-mortar place, to stock in the daily necessities of life. From as recently as five months ago I found this petition online:
We the residents, neighbors, businesses and stakeholders of the Hudson Heights / Washington Heights community petition the Landlord of 592 Fort Washington Ave, the property Management Company Benson Capital Partners LLC, and Walgreen's to extend the lease for the Associated supermarket located at 592 Fort Washington, and preserve this vital food venue for the community.

We are an economically and socially diverse community, and many of us rely on the products and services provided by Associated for our basic, everyday grocery and dry-good necessities. Without this commercial resource, our neighborhood would become a food desert as many people would find other options for food and basic necessities to be inaccessible and unaffordable. Help save this valuable community business!
In fact, for decades now accoess to supermarkets has been a hot-button issue in neighborhoods all over NYC. In poorer neighborhoods, where supermarket chains found it increasingly difficult to justify the investment, it has often been common for residents to have no ready access to, say, fresh produce. Of course it's a tricky business, being so bold as to dictate to land owners what they can and can't do with their property, or even what they should and shouldn't do. But land is a finite resource, and we already have zoning laws precisely because land use affects communities as a whole, not just the owners of individual pieces of property.

More and more of these battles, as I've occasionally chronicled here, have been going the other way, as the forces of Big Money have learned to use their economic muscle to get their way. I thought it might be nice for us to share this moment with the People Up There who attended today's rally.

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At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's nice that the people won one, for a change, although the agents of greed don't usually give up and go away. Sooner or later, the fight will resume against an overpriced Whole Foods, or a demolition and housing tower rebuild, or a restaurant, or a row of glitzy places to waste money. Unless you have great wealth, everything in NY is a fight requiring strategy.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

You said it, friend!



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