BY SCOTT R. AXELROD | In a tilting-at-caffeinated-windmills scenario that’s destined to end with a sparkly new Starbucks rising from a boarded-up 10,000 -square-foot space on Avenue A, dozens turned out last Thurs., July 13, to speak up and speak out against having yet another outlet of the national commercial coffee chain drip its way into the East Village.
The so-called “formula-style” coffee shop is slated for 125 St. Mark’s Place, at St. Mark’s Place and Avenue A. Four months ago, The Villager reported that, according to a source familiar with the situation, Citi-Urban Management, an arm of the owner of the building, was “far along in negotiations with the multinational coffee chain,” although the deal technically had not been sealed yet.
“We come not to bury Starbucks, but not to praise it either,” said James Armata, general manager of MUD Coffee, which has the Mudspot coffee shop, at 307 E. Ninth St.
Armata came loaded for bear with several gallons of complimentary iced coffee.
“This issue is not just about one Starbucks on one corner,” he stressed. “It’s more about the character of our neighborhood.”
Representatives from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the East Village Independent Merchants Association and the East Village Community Coalition were joined by local business owners, residents and passersby, not only to “venti” their frustration over the proliferation of chain stores siphoning profits from the area’s small, independently owned and unique businesses, but basically to request that big businesses take their business elsewhere.
“We support Community Board 3’s movement to create a special zoning district to keep out big-box and chain stores,” said Jimmy Carbon, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43, at 43 E. Seventh St., and president and founding member of EVIMA. “We want to promote the many diverse local cafes and coffee bars and encourage locals and visitors to visit it them.”
A petition passed through the crowd was filled with nearly 100 signatures by the time the rally dissolved into the humid summer evening.
However, Charles Branstool, the owner of Exit9 Gift Emporium, at 51 Avenue A, and the treasurer and a founding member of EVIMA, pointed out that C.B. 3 has been sitting on the same zoning proposal for the last three years.
“We need to urge C.B. 3 to submit the proposal to City Planning,” he said. “If we speak loud enough, we can get this pushed through. We can protect our neighborhood.”
Branstool urged everyone to continue nudging local politicians Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Borough President Gale Brewer to push for the special district, as he passed out fliers with their contact information.
According to “State of the Chains 2016,” the Center for an Urban Future’s ranking of national retailers in New York City, Starbucks has more than 300 locations in New York City alone, with 16 of those located between 14th and Houston Sts., from the Hudson River to the East River.
Harry Bubbins, the East Village and special projects director for G.V.S.H.P., served as the rally’s emcee.
“Neighborhoods like the East Village thrive due to their creativity, diversity and individuality,” Bubbins said. “Chains often target and push out longtime local independent businesses, which often have a hard time relocating. A special district would limit the size and number of chains in certain areas. And give small businesses a fair shot at negotiating new leases with their landlords, who continue to warehouse empty retail spaces and seek out chain stores to fill them.”
Bubbins was referring to the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a piece of long-stalled legislation that, if passed by the City Council, would require landlords to give commercial tenants a 10-year minimum lease, with the right to renew it, and limit security deposits to two month’s rent, among other issues. Despite having a majority of the councilmembers as co-sponsors, the bill has never had a formal hearing or vote in the City Council. Advocates charge Mayor Bill de Blasio has never publicly supported the measure, even with 5,000 supporters signing an online petition calling for it to have a hearing and be put to a vote.
Alex Carpenter, an East Village resident and co-owner of the East Village Vintage Collective boutique, at 545 E. 12th St., perhaps summed up the situation in a way that most locals and regular visitors to the area could appreciate.
“We’ve resisted 7-Eleven, and we’re not happy about Target and Trader Joe’s on 14th St.,” Carpenter said. “We’re losing all the character here and have to continue fighting to keep the weirdness and hole-in-the-wall shops we’re known for.”