By Caroline Benveniste
The stories are very similar, in fact almost the same. A long-standing Associated Supermarket, beloved by its neighbors as one of the few remaining affordable places to shop, was threatened with non-renewal of their lease. The community was up in arms about it. They pulled together to save the supermarket with petitions, rallies, involvement of local officials, etc. But the outcomes are quite different. The Associated in the West Village at 14th Street closed on May 1st, but the Associated in Hudson Heights at 187th and Fort Washington Avenue was spared. Why? No one really knows, but we can make some guesses.
I spoke with Aya Keefe, the chief of staff for Councilmember Mark Levine. He was one of the local officials who worked hard to save the uptown Associated. Mr. Levine’s district goes from 96 to 165th Street. So technically, the Associated is outside his district, but many of his constituents shop there, and the Associated is the only supermarket from about 170th to 200th streets.
About a year ago, local residents heard that the Associated’s lease would not be renewed, and that instead, a Walgreens had signed a lease for the space for almost double the original rent.
But unlike with the 14th street Associated, in this case, the landlord, Benenson Capital Partners, did come to the table to negotiate. And it seems that Walgreens was convinced to relinquish the lease because of the pressure of the community and the electeds. They were quoted as saying that they were willing to work with the grocery store toward an amenable solution. After all, Walgreens has lots of stores in New York City, and probably would like to maintain good relations all around.
The 14th Street store remains empty—and if there is a tenant already for the space, no one knows who it is, so there was no one to pressure to relinquish the lease. Moreover, the landlord, Pan Am Equities, was asking triple the rent, and as Aya Keefe pointed out, rents are higher in the Village than in Hudson Heights, so undoubtedly, there was more money at stake.
Next year, the drama will play out again, this time at the Stuyvesant Town Associated. Its lease is expiring in 2017, and the owners are already in negotiations with Blackstone, the landlord. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it could go either way.