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Deal brewing to bring Starbucks to Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place

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Filled with empty storefronts, the northwest corner of Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place is desolate, particularly at night. Word is that it soon could be home to a Starbucks. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A deal reportedly is in the works to bring the first Starbucks to Alphabet City, The Villager has learned.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Citi-Urban Management, an arm of the owner of the building at the northwest corner of Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place, is far along in negotiations with the multinational coffee chain — although the deal technically hasn’t been sealed yet.

The property features a slew of empty storefronts, including the former pizzeria spot on the corner, along with the now-shuttered Hop Devil Grill and Ton-Up Café along St. Mark’s Place.

The source spoke on condition of strict anonymity, for professional reasons.

“This is like very, very secret,” the source said. “I would say it’s a 90 percent certainty that Starbucks will be in the space. They’re just making sure that Starbucks is comfortable with the layout and arrangement of that corner. They’re trying to negotiate the best space.”

Further west, a couple of other retail spaces on the building’s ground floor are still occupied, including 10 Degrees bar, at 121 St. Mark’s Place, and Box Kite Coffee, at 115 St. Mark’s Place.

As for when the java giant would open, the source said, “It’s going to be months from now because they still have to renovate. The spaces are a disaster now. But just to tell you how far negotiations have gone, they’re starting to design the space — and they’re doing the foundations for getting permits.”

The parties are figuring out exactly how much of the empty storefronts the chain will actually occupy, the source said.

As for why the property owners are going for the caffeine-peddling behemoth, the source said, “Like all landlords in New York City, they likely prefer Starbucks. This is an obvious reason the smaller stores are being driven out — landlords want higher rents.”

Activist poet Bob Holman led an “Unchain the East Village” protest in Feburary 2013 after word got out that a 7-Eleven was coming to Avenue A. Now a Starbucks reportedly is set to follow suit. Villager file photo
Activist poet Bob Holman led an “Unchain the East Village” protest in Feburary 2013 after word got out that a 7-Eleven was coming to Avenue A. Now a Starbucks reportedly is set to follow suit. Villager file photo

So far, Starbucks has virtually encircled Alphabet City in its pricey “pincers” — to the north, south and west — but has not yet “crossed the Rubicon” onto Avenue A.

As of now, there are two Starbucks in the East Village on First Ave. at E. 13th and E. Third Sts., another on Second Ave. at E. Ninth St., of course the big one on Astor Place, another on the Lower East Side on Delancey St., and yet another Starbucks up by Stuyvesant Town on E. 17th St.

Four years ago, 7-Eleven was the first to breach Alphabet City when it opened a store on Avenue A at E. 11th St. News that 7-Eleven was coming in sparked a series of outraged “Unchain the East Village” protests by activists led by the likes of Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club and Rob Hollander.

A sign is still listed on the allegedly Starbucks-slated property at Avenue A and St. Mark’s, saying “Store For Rent,” and to call Dana Moskowitz about it.

A notice on one of the shuttered storefronts, stating that the landlord has possession of the premises. Photo by Lincoln Anderson
A notice on one of the shuttered St. Mark’s storefronts, stating that the landlord has possession of the premises. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Moskowitz is listed as the president of EVO Real Estate Group, a brokerage firm.

On Wednesday, Moskowitz referred a call by The Villager to Joshua Halegua, one of the building’s owners, saying to reach him at Citi-Urban.

“I really can’t comment. The partners are handling that,” Moskowitz said of the alleged Starbucks deal.

Halegua is listed as a principal of EVO — whose name reportedly stems from “evolution.” He, his father, Nathan, and another partner own at least 50 buildings, mostly in Manhattan.

A woman who answered at a phone number for Halegua provided by Moskowitz said he would be out of the office until Monday.

Asked if she knew anything about the rumored Starbucks blockbuster deal, she said, “I have no knowledge of that. I’m just the girl up front.”

Bob Perl, the owner of Tower Brokerage in the East Village, said he knows the elder Halegua as a good guy. The Haleguas’ real estate firm is called Jonis Reality.

“Nathan has been around since the early ’80s, if not late ’70s, smart operator, good humored-guy,” Perl said. “He has done a lot of deals. Nathan has been an active, stand-up real estate operator who has stayed out of the press because he has integrity.”

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Ray Alvarez isn’t afraid of competition by a potential Starbucks beachhead on Avenue A. Where else — where else? — can you get “Obama Coffee?” Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Meanwhile, a block to the south on Avenue A near the corner of E. Seventh St., Ray Alvarez, 84, continues to hawk his own coffee from his hole-in-the-wall store, as he has done faithfully since 1974. However, java is no longer his mainstay, no doubt due to there being so many other options for the beverage in the area nowadays.

“I don’t sell that much coffee,” he admitted, speaking through the little sidewalk window of his shop at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, as he was pulling the overnight shift, as usual. “I used to sell thousand coffee a day — now I sell 25.

“I actually sell mainly desserts now — fried Oreo, beignets, sundae, fried apples, onion rings…also fried chicken — mainly fried.”

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Eat your heart out Starbucks!

He inquired briefly about Starbucks’ pastries and cakes.

“What are they, $7?” he asked. “It’s complete different than I am. My customers can’t afford that stuff. Most of the stuff I sell is $5. Hot dog is $2.50. Coffee is $1.”

And then there’s something you can’t get at Starbucks — “Obama Coffee,” for $2.

“It’s black coffee with vanilla ice cream,” Ray explained.

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How times have changed. A flashback to a typical scene on Avenue A from circa the late 1980s / early 1990s. In front of the old Leshko’s, at the corner of E. Seventh St., the late Robert Lee Marion a.k.a. “Loanshark Bob” is holding court, center, while an intoxicated Marlene Bailey a.k.a. “Hot Dog” lies passed out on the sidewalk in foreground. Photo by Bob Arihood

Forty-three years ago when Ray took over the egg-cream hot spot, taxi drivers would not even dare venture over to Avenue A. Asked if, back then, he could have imagined a Starbucks there, Ray said, no — partly, for obvious reasons.

“No, there was no Starbucks,” he noted. “It was a different kind of people, people who loved their hot dog, loved their egg cream. … I used to sell a lot of cigars, too.”

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