In what is becoming a recurring ritual in the city, a crowd of customers, nearby residents and elected officials gathered to protest the closing of a local grocery store, this time the Associated Supermarket on W. 14th St.
The Sunday protest was led by Councilmember Corey Johnson, and comes as grocery stores throughout New York are being squeezed by rising rents and competition from national chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. The closure of a Food Emporium due to bankruptcy sparked protests in Turtle Bay last November, and the eviction of another Associated Supermarket location in Washington Heights was postponed last month after community action.
According to Glen Bruno, co-owner of the Associated in Chelsea, the store was informed at the end of January by landlord Pan Am Equities, Inc. that its rent would more than triple, to over $100,000 from $32,000. The supermarket, which has been at that location since 1989, can't afford to stay, he said. “No one can pay that,” Bruno said. “We thought since we've been here a long time that everything would be a lot smoother, but it just doesn't end up that way.”
Bruno said there was no prior indication that the rent would be so dramatically increased, and that he would do the best he could for his employees. “A lot of these people have been here since we started,” Bruno said. While the area around 14th Street and 8th Avenue is hardly lacking in grocery stores, he noted that several other long-time stores in the area have closed recently, as lower-priced stores are replaced by luxury stores catering to the ever-gentrifying neighborhood.
Bruno said his other location in Stuyvesant Town, the only other store he owns. had seen much better luck with rent negotiations and would continue to serve the community there.
Video by Madeleine Thompson
Residents that share the building with Associated are worried they could end up with similar increases. Gary, who declined to give his last name due to his own ongoing negotiations, has lived in the building and shopped at Associated for 30 years. “We have no options,” he said. “This is a horrible loss.”
Marc Felix, who lives nearby on Horatio Street, has been shopping at Associated for many years. “It's the closest, and the prices are definitely cheaper than D'Agostino's and these gourmet places that open up,” he said. The closest alternatives to Associated include a Westside Market a block over, a Trader Joe's roughly nine blocks away and a Fairway a block from the Trader Joe's.
But those who gathered to protest are loyal to Associated. “I can find things here that I can't find anymore — that I was eating as a kid,” said Linda Jobe, who carried a large sign with the word “GREED” crossed out.
Outside the store, Johnson led a crowd of at least 50 people in chants of “Save Our Supermarket!”
“What you will see over and over again is empty storefronts where previous small businesses existed,” Johnson said. “All of these places are vital for the health and well-being and economic diversity of our neighborhoods … This is happening all over the city.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also addressed the protesters; “When we lose the pharmacies and the bodegas and the supermarkets, we're losing the heart and soul of our neighborhood,” she said. State Senator Brad Hoylman and Public Advocate Letitia James were among the other elected officials there to show their support.
After thanking the crowd, Johnson encouraged attendees to sign a petition for the store at Change.org and said protests against Pan Am would continue.
Pan Am officials couldn't be reached for comment, as of press time.