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Chelsea’s Associated Supermarket threatened by rent hikes, hundreds rally to keep it open

More than 200 people rallied Sunday to save Chelsea’s Associated Supermarket after owners of the neighborhood grocery at 255 W. 14th St. reached an impasse with their landlords, Pan Am Equities.

“What is the point of affordable housing if there is no place affordable to shop?” for food, implored Corey Johnson, a City Council member who anchored the protest. Johnson told a demonstrative crowd that he was researching the business ties Pan Am might have with the city in hopes of applying pressure on the landlord to keep the store open.

Exactly how much rent Pan Am wants for the 6,000 square feet of space is not clear: Johnson and other politicians at the rally insisted that Pan Am wanted $200,000 a month, but Joe Falzon, a co-owner of the store, told amNY that Pan Am sought at least “double what we pay ($32,000 a month). … We work on very small margins, about one-and-a-half to two per cent.”

January negotiations disintegrated as both parties realized their positions were unbridgeable, Falzon explained.

Two of the protestors who showed up Sunday, March 13, 2016, in hopes of keeping West 14th Street's Associated Supermarket open, which is in danger of closing due to mammoth rent hikes.
Two of the protestors who showed up Sunday, March 13, 2016, in hopes of keeping West 14th Street’s Associated Supermarket open, which is in danger of closing due to mammoth rent hikes. Photo Credit: Sheila Anne Feeney

While Associated has five years remaining on its 15-year lease, a clause in the contract allows the landlord to raise the rent to market rate in the last five years.

“I don’t blame [the landlord],” said Falzon. “I blame what has happened to Manhattan.”

Falzon expressed sadness at the closure and noted that the store is now surrounded at its location between Seventh and Eighth avenues by condos selling for $9 million and chain stores that can pay multiples of what he can afford.

A lawyer for Pan Am Equities did not respond to requests for comment.

Other elected officials also vowed to fight for the 27-year-old grocery Sunday. Public Advocate Letitia James said she planned to investigate whether NYC made pension investments with Pan Am, and, if so, to see if the investments could be leveraged on the store’s behalf. Borough President Gale Brewer suggested that grocery stores be spared the commercial rent tax to lessen their cost burdens. Rep. Jerrold Nadler urged the passage of commercial rent regulations. New York State Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried said if the landlords don’t behave “like decent human beings, we will make laws to make them behave like human beings.”

“We have to put pressure on landlords,” to keep businesses that are crucial to communities, added State Sen. Brad Hoylman, as “another drug store or bank is not what this community needs.”

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