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East Village Activists Fight For Mom & Pop Stores As Box Chain Stores Plan To Move In

With Target and Trader Joe’s in the midst of construction on 14th St., East Village activists are proposing restrictions to limit box chain development in the area.

By Jeff Vasishta June 9, 2017

When national box chain stores like Target and Trader Joe’s open in your once funky, bohemian part of town, it could be time to resign yourself to the fact that the old neighborhood has gone. That’s what’s happening in the East Village where the two retail giants are opening a block from one another on 14th St. However, small business owners aren’t ready to raise the white flag. In fact, they are doubling down on efforts to ensure pop and pop stores, once staples of the rapidly gentrified area, can stay around.

Both stores are scheduled to open in 2018 — Target at 500 E. 14th St. and Trader Joe’s at 432 E. 14th St., near Avenue A — much to the chagrin of local merchants who are signaling the alarm and attempting guarantee rights to safeguard the future of their businesses in the face of increasing corporate interest.

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“It’s a little frightening to think that if Target is the first one to move in, then Trader Joe’s, what going to stop Walmart?” Charles Branstool, owner of Exit9 Gift Emporium on Avenue A and a director at the East Village Independent Merchants Association, to DNA Info. “Because eventually it’s only those companies who will be able to afford to move in if prices do rise, and before you know it, it’s gonna be Times Square-ish.”

One proposal submitted to Community Board 3 by the East Village Community Coalition, is that stores in a “special zoning district” — between 14th Street, Houston Street, Second Avenue and Avenue D — cannot be larger than 2,500 square feet and could be no wider than 25 feet. Combining storefronts to make a larger space would also be prohibited.
Though unable to offer any type of assurance, Community Board 3 chairman Jamie Rogers’ initial words were encouraging for supporters of the new proposal.

“I do know that a big box store doesn’t have a positive impact on mom and pop stores typically, so we are sensitive to it and we are sensitive to that move in that direction,” she said.

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Box chain stores have deep pockets and are upward price drivers for any neighborhood because they are able to set bottom line for other retailers looking to move into the area. Thus, the East Village Community Coalition is also looking to enforce similar zoning restrictions in a corridor between Third and Fourth avenues that would limit the size of commercial developments. The arrival of the box chain stores and the forthcoming “Tech hub” also on 14th St has spurred the activists into action.

Target signed a 30 year lease with the the option to extend for a further 10 and its arrival has, replaced a stretch of building along 14th Street including Stuyvesant Grocery, Pete’s-a-Place Pizza, Permacut hair salon, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, clothes store Rainbow, the Blarney Cove, Canal Jewelry, Wash ‘n Clean laundromat, and Rite Aid. Extell Development, which has leased the space, are building two seven-story residential towers on top of Target with 160 apartments between them, including 32 priced below market rate. Trader Joe’s is being constructed behind a residential development at 432-438 East 14th Street, which replaced a popular Post Office. The lease, with Mack Real Estate and Bensenson Capital Partners will bring 113 apartments to the neighborhood of which 23 will be affordable.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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