Reps for owner meet with tenants on Associated as well as maintenance and safety concerns
By Sabina Mollot
New owner Blackstone has committed to keeping an affordable supermarket in Stuyvesant Town, although it may not be Associated.
Last week, a petition was started to save the 25-year-old supermarket, which, as Town & Village reported in October, was being pressured to end its lease early, even after CWCapital turned down an offer from a competing market to go in at a higher rent.
However, last Thursday, Blackstone reps told members of the Tenants Association board at a private meeting that there would continue to be an affordable option for tenants when shopping for groceries.
As of T&V’s press time, an online petition in support of the store had over 850 signatures. The Tenants Association had also created paper petitions that were placed by each store cashier, which got hundreds more signatures. Many residents had been concerned that the store would be replaced by a more expensive supermarket or no supermarket at all.
Blackstone rep Paula Chirhart, who was at the meeting with the Tenants Association, later told T&V, “We are committed to keeping an affordable grocery in that space.”
She noted that the Associated still has two more years to go before the store’s lease is up.
However, principal owner Joe Falzon had attempted to renew early to make sure the business had a future before investing in a much-needed renovation. But when no one from CW would agree to talk business after a year of his requests, Falzon reached out to a competitor who might want the space and compensate him for the remaining time on his lease. But then that supermarket was also turned down by CW.
Following Blackstone’s announcement, Susan Steinberg, president of the Tenants Association, said she was relieved.
“We thank both Blackstone for understanding how important that is for us, as well as the hundreds of residents who signed the paper petitions and other hundreds who signed the online petition,” she said.
“This is a new dawn as far as I’m concerned,” Steinberg added. “This is a commitment I am sure they will honor.”
Falzon also said this was his goal as well, saying that even if his store doesn’t get to stay, he felt another similar supermarket would be more likely to hire people who currently work at the Associated. There are over 80 employees, a third who are full time, the rest part time.
“I have people who have been here 10 to 20 years,” Falzon said. Of course, he added, he would still like to keep his own business running. But he said he and his three partners couldn’t stay on if the rent, currently $55,000, is increased too significantly. “There’s only so much we can pay. There are only four of us,” he said.
In related news, at the meeting, which was held at the Peter Cooper apartment of Tenants Association Vice President John Sheehy, Blackstone reps also got an earful from tenants on other issues. Those issues included complaints of a decline in building maintenance and safety concerns, following a spike in sexual assaults. Over the span of one year, there were three arrests for attempted rape in Stuyvesant Town.
While there were no changes in policy announced last week, Steinberg said the Blackstone reps, Chirhart as well as senior managing directors in real estate Nadeem Meghji and William Stein, seemed “very sincere” in their concern. In particular they were responsive about security.
“While they have not yet had time to wrap their minds around the issue, they want to build a responsive public safety team,” Steinberg said.
On the maintenance issue, Steinberg said the increase in complaints has risen following a number of cuts in the department over the past few years.
“At the meeting, we discussed how there used to be one porter per building and the buildings were always clean,” she said. “Then there was one porter for two buildings and things started slipping. Finally, porters reported being responsible for three buildings. Now complaints are everywhere.”
Steinberg said part of the problem is due to the massive amount of recycling. “While I didn’t think of it at the meeting, perhaps there should be staff assigned to do nothing but handle the recycling and leave building maintenance for others,” she added.
Other issues discussed were “dormification” of the complex, fees now charged for maintenance items that tenants have never paid for before; failure to enforce the 80 percent carpeting rule (a major contributor to the noise problem) and the size and breeds of dogs permitted.
Chirhart told T&V following the meeting that Blackstone is still in the information gathering phase, and has gotten over 2,000 responses to a recently distributed survey. The company will also soon begin conducting tenant focus groups.