By George Capsis
On March 8th, I received an e-mail from local resident Kay Frost, which triggered an extraordinary series of events that is still unfolding as you read this.
Kay’s letter mentioned some “very distressing news”—that the Associated Market at 14th Street and 8th Avenue was scheduled to close at the end of April because the landlord had “upped the rent from over $30,000 to over $100,000 per month.” Kay’s letter expressed concerns about where “non-multimillionaires are going to buy food at reasonable prices” and ended with the cry “We lost our hospital and now we’re losing our supermarket!” (You can read Kay’s letter in full on page 7.)
I asked the permission of the author to print and forwarded it off to Assembly member Corey Johnson—and bang! Corey called for a demonstration!
“Why, oh, why Corey,” I came back, nothing is going to make the owner, Iranian-born billionaire Fraydun Manocherian, exude a tear for the arthritic little old lady supported by a shopping cart holding a lone quart of milk for her morning tea. And our Borough President, Gale Brewer’s idea for a lease negotiation “cooling off” is meaningless since white hot greed does not cool and we will never but never have commercial rent control—but Corey ignored my repetition of the obvious and called for a rally. To my astonishment, he gets virtually all of the local politicians to show up—oh wow, politicians have a nose for the “big” issues and this is obviously one.
Right here, in the West Village, we have a colony of the gentrified poor. They live in rent regulated and even rent controlled apartments and shop for groceries at the cheapest markets with what is left of their Social Security check.
However, as tenants like those who bought the St. Vincent’s Rudin condo for $19 million move in, their maid will shop at Citarella with her employer’s credit card oblivious to price and hence with no restraint—prices will float up and up, and we will truly have a tale of two communities. But one of them will no longer be able to eat here.
A clock still on standard time brought me to the Associated rally late I “unfortunately missed all of the speeches,” but what I found was an astonishing sea of gray hair (price is an issue for the elderly) and I discovered and got a hug from our author Kay Frost.
But now for the astonishing part…
When I had casually clicked off my e-mail to Corey, I had also sent a copy to the President and COO of D’Agostino, Bob James. To my astonishment he replied—“I admire and respect the work that you are doing on behalf of the seniors in your community. These neighborhoods are very important to us as well, and we would like to pursue ways in which we could make their lives better.” He went on to announce they were extending their discount to seniors from just Wednesday to every day.
Oh wow, I have been earning a paycheck from the world of business for half a century and no President nor COO has ever responded to me with such immediate, friendly openness. I had to meet this man and I did—for a sit down in the D’Agostino market on Washington Street just around the corner from rival Mrs. Green (another story).
Bob James is a tall, slender, soft spoken, and handsome African-American adopted by an American step father and a German step mother who grew up in Germany and Italy and speaks both languages. (I offered, in my limited German, that my mother was born in Hamburg and he came back in perfect high German.)
In our meeting, I asked him how he came to want to develop a program for seniors and he began to draw. “Traditionally,” he said “when a community comes together they first build a church.” (He drew a church.) And then, he explained, they build all the other elements of a community and one of them is a food store (he drew a store) that store offers the community what they want at prices they can afford. Eighty four years ago the D’Agostino brothers built a store on the Upper East Side to cater to that affluent neighborhood with high prices for premium meats and a variety of international food products. But when all the local politicians and a crowd of over a hundred seniors stand for two hours in the street to save what they see as an affordable super market, I know they are not looking for an Upper East Side, high priced D’Agostino to save them. I want to talk to the West Village seniors to learn their needs and design a supermarket within a supermarket that caters to them. Discounts are a start, but offering foods like fresh salads and fruits in smaller packages to end waste is another.
He went on to say “I want to experiment with this one West Village store using the input of local seniors to create programs and a pricing policy which will always live within their income.”
I asked Bob if his father was a minister.
Kay Frost Letter
Last week I heard some very distressing news while shopping at the Associated Supermarket at 14th Street and 8th Avenue – they’re closing down the end of April! An elderly lady who seemed to need a shopping cart for support to help her get around told my husband and I that she just heard that the landlord has upped the rent from over $30,000 to over $100,000 per month – that is triple the amount they would have to pay. The store cannot afford this enormous increase and keep its prices reasonable so it is closing.
Please note that the store has been in this location for 26 years.
This is another example of the greed that is ruining the lives of so many people who are not multimillionaires. Where are people going to shop? This woman said it will be very difficult for her to go to the nearest store, Western Beef, which also was forced out of its original space on 14th Street and 9th Avenue and had to move up to 16th Street and further west, to near 10th Avenue. I noticed the other day that the space on 14th Street is vacant now – just a few years after opening a non-grocery business and is looking for new tenants.
The building of new condos keeps continuing at a very rapid rate but no thought is being given to where non-multimillionaires are going to buy food at reasonable prices. The rate of small businesses closing is so alarming. Don’t our politicians notice what’s happening to our neighborhoods? When will they get a law passed to prevent greedy landlords from increasing the rents so exorbitantly that businesses can continue to stay open?
It seems all I see around the West Village lately are empty clothing stores – hardly any clothing in the stores and no customers! Also, there are very many completely empty stores for rent.
Getting back to the grocery store issue, I have noticed Western Beef, which has a very large number of customers using food stamps, has been increasing their prices (I’m sure due to an increase in their rent). When they lose the competition of Associated, will they increase their prices more? So not only will the rapidly dwindling middle class people be affected, so will the people on welfare have very limited access to affordable grocery shopping.
We lost our hospital and now we’re losing our supermarket!
This is the very start of the story which I hope you follow in WestView.