By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents of Chelsea and Greenwich Village, along with local elected officials, this past Sunday protested the impending closure of an Associated Supermarket on West 14th, which is run by the same owners as the Stuyvesant Town Associated.
The store, located at 255 West 14th Street near Eighth Avenue, is in the tenth year of a 15-year lease but principal owner Joseph Falzon said it will likely be forced to close in May because of a stipulation that says the rent can be increased to market value in the last five years of the lease.
It was previously reported that the rent would be increased to $200,000 and although the actual increase would be half that at $100,000, it is still substantially more than the store’s current rent of $32,000.
“Even if we came to an agreement, the rent can’t be much more than what it is now anyway or we won’t survive,” Falzon said.
The store, along with the Stuyvesant Town Associated and another Associated in Alphabet City, is owned by a group of four partners, of which Falzon is the president.
The protest that took place on Sunday was organized by Councilmember Corey Johnson and brought out a number of other local elected officials, including State Senator Brad Hoylman, who recognized the importance of Blackstone’s promise to keep an affordable supermarket in the neighborhood for Stuy Town and Peter Cooper residents.
“There are 25,000 people living in Stuyvesant Town but what about the people on this side of 14th Street?” he said. “Fresh fruits and vegetables and household supplies from affordable grocery stores are fundamental to our lifestyle in Manhattan. This will be one more domino to fall for the working class and seniors.”
A source close to the owners said that Falzon and his partners don’t have any leverage, which makes it difficult for them to negotiate. “If they put major heat on the landlord it may have an impact but it’s hard to know,” he said.
He theorized that the owners would replace the Associated with a bank branch or another supermarket.
“It’s not that big of a space but they wouldn’t do this unless they were confident they could get the rent they’re asking,” he said.
Johnson disputed this point, however, noting that a number of locally owned businesses on Eight Avenue and throughout Chelsea that have been forced to close have remained empty.
“What’s the point of affordable housing if there isn’t a supermarket that’s affordable for the people who live there?” he said. “Locksmiths, grocery stores, all these places that are supposed to be here for the health and well-being of the community are being forced to close.”
Falzon said that he and the other three owners are still working with Blackstone to come to an agreement for the Stuyvesant Town Associated before their lease expires for that store in 2017. No further information was available about a possible lease for the location but a representative for Blackstone confirmed that management is committed to having an affordable grocery store in that space.
Falzon also confirmed that the new owner seemed interested in keeping the store there and he and the owners had a good meeting with Blackstone at the beginning of the year. He said that he was less optimistic about the fate of the Chelsea store because of the high price of real estate in that neighborhood.
“You have condos going for $5 million, then you have the Meatpacking District with all those high end stores,” Falzon said. “That’s what determines the market value. It’s a really ideal situation for the landlord.”
Last year, Falzon and his partners closed another supermarket they owned, Met Food in Gramercy.