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East Village Hates Chains, Just Like Astor Place Once Did

A new 7-Eleven is under construction in the East Village.
A new 7-Eleven is under construction in the East Village.

Kate Conger

Last week, the New York Times reported that the East Village was emphatically protesting an incoming 7-Eleven. The Slurpee giant is worming its way right to the trendy core of the neighborhood, renovating a storefront on Avenue A and East 11th Street. The neighbors are worried that the snack chain will have a negative impact on local businesses and further gentrify the already-changing area.

It's not the first time a New York neighborhood has tried to block a big chain from moving in -- think way back, if you will, to the Astor Place Kmart kerfuffle of 1996. The Times diligently covered that one too (although they've updated their terminology for anti-capitalist kids in the last decade; what were once "skateboarding teen-agers" are now "black-clad youths"). Back then, one resident fretted, "I hate the thought of stepping over Kmart shoppers on my way to buy bagels on Sunday morning."

Skeptical that one store, even one as gigantic as the 145,000-square-foot Kmart, could have such a distinctive impact on a neighborhood, we decided to pay a visit and find out.

Our first sight on stepping out of the subway was a bright pink Hummer limo, plowing up 4th Avenue. Not a wonderful first impression considering that, in addition to the skaters, the area was apparently known for "impromptu rock concerts," but we figured that the real proof of neighborly rejection would be inside. In the case of 7-Eleven, the Times noted East Village residents were quick to coordinate other shopping options, such as "a 'bodega walk' to promote existing businesses" and "a No 7-Eleven alternative shopping guide" -- so we figured surely Astor Place locals wouldn't be caught browsing the discount garb at Kmart.

But, shockingly, the place was packed. Ladies, if you're on the prowl for single men in Manhattan, take note: they're all picking through flannel shirts and Valentines-themed boxers during the Saturday night dinner rush (yes, you can infer from this that we were hanging out at Kmart on Saturday night because we're dedicated to journalism).

With nothing to prove that the neighborhood hasn't evolved -- the skateboarders and junk peddlers described by the Times are certainly gone, while Kmart appears to be thriving -- we're forced to take this whole 7-Eleven debacle a bit more seriously.

East Village dwellers aren't only upset about how the new store will alter the future of the area, they're pretty annoyed by the changes the store's renovation has caused so far. Brian Gondo, who lives in the apartment building upstairs from the forthcoming chain, told us, "The construction causes problems in the building. They keep shutting off our hot water." He also worried about how the new facade will change the face of his cute brownstone building, and said he'll miss the bar that used to occupy the space.

Since the space is already under construction, it seems pretty unlikely that locals will have any success in keeping the chain out. However, community members have called for a measure like San Francisco's, which requires large chains to get approval from the neighbors and the planning commission before moving into a new space. Unfortunately, the measure isn't foolproof -- it didn't stop Target from opening its very first S.F. location last year in the city's up-and-coming SoMa neighborhood.

If gentrification is indeed on its way to the East Village's final, funky holdout, someone better tell the skaters in Tompkins Square Park -- they'll have to find a newer, cooler place to hang out.


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