The Pathmark supermarket on East Harlem's 125th Street closed this weekend amid controversy, more controversy, and the despair of 30,000 customers who have few places left to buy groceries.
After the Pathmark opened in 1999, a number of small grocers shut down, leaving residents dependent on the big supermarket.
The Times reported that the grocery store's intended role would be to increase development: "the Pathmark's popularity is having a big impact on the neighborhood. Not only has it altered the fortunes of the unsightly intersection where it is located, it is also helping to spur development across 125th Street."
At the time, Karen A. Phillips, chief executive of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, who put in the store, said the supermarket had "done what it was supposed to do -- inspire new commercial development" through the heart of Harlem.
Then, last year, Abyssinian sold the Pathmark site to mega-developer Extell for nearly $39 million. Extell, as you may know, is creating a giant luxury city at Hudson Yards, with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies from Bloomberg.
Said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of the Abyssinian and Extell deal for Pathmark, “I believe they threw this community under the bus.”
A look inside the supermarket on Saturday evening revealed shelves already stripped bare, the registers closed, and the employees--200 of whom will now be out of work--gathering to say goodbye.
Also around 1999, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, with mega-developer Forest City Ratner (known for getting eminent domain land and subsidies from Bloomberg to develop Atlantic Yards), developed the Harlem Center to the west, a suburban-style shopping center with an Old Navy store, among other chains.
As promised, more development has come to 125th Street, especially after the major boost of Bloomberg's massive "river-to-river" rezoning in 2008, a brainchild of Amanda Burden, then director of the Department of City Planning.
The eureka moment came after a Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo, when Burden discovered there was simply nowhere to eat in Harlem--nowhere, not even at Sylvia’s or Manna’s or any of the other soul-food restaurants nearby. She realized that the neighborhood would have to change. “There should be a million different eateries around there,” she told the Times, “and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame and control growth on 125th Street.”
Well, now Amanda Burden can eat at Red Lobster. There's one right next to the Apollo, just after the Banana Republic.
Since the rezoning, several mom-and-pops have been evicted and several chains have gone in.
I took a walk along 125th Street, from the Hudson River to the onramp of the Triborough Bridge. Along the way, I counted 77 national chains and 15 commercial banks -- even though Burden said that the rezoning would limit “bank exposure on the street level, positioning the banking floors on the second floor to encourage more vitality,” because "Banks can deaden an environment.”
The majority of those 92 chains and banks are located in the core of central 125th Street, which is maybe 7 blocks wide. That’s about 10 chains per block. And more keep coming. A new development under construction flies a banner that announces the future arrival of a Burlington Coat Factory.
As if the story can't get any worse for 125th Street, back on the easternmost end, just one block east of the Pathmark development, a group of businesses is under siege from the city government.
In 2009, the Bloomberg Administration blighted a whole block on 125th Street and 3rd Avenue, using eminent domain to claim it for a massive $700 million development project, the 1.7 million-square-foot East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center, aka "MEC."
This, in addition to the eminent domain deal gifted to Columbia University at the westernmost end of 125th, means the street has been bookended in Bloomberg's land grabs.
Today this eastern, edge-of-the-earth block contains a dry cleaners, a hair braiding salon, a gas station, a flat-fix shop, an auto-body shop, a Baptist church, and other businesses. The city has already seized property, including a building from Demolition Depot. The owners are still fighting in court. Reported the Real Deal: "the de Blasio administration has not announced plans for the site, and is instead moving forward with the land seizure without defining a clear purpose for it."
Call me crazy, but I don't think it's any coincidence that this block sits right over the Third Avenue Bridge from the waterfront of the South Bronx, where another Bloomberg rezoning helped to usher in major development.
Here, from Lugo's Flat Fix stand looking north, you can see clear to the so-called "Piano District," where luxury towers will soon be rising.
It would be naive to deny that it's all connected.