Monday, November 23, 2015

125th Street in Chains

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.

How many?

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."

blighted block

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.


Unknown said...

Pathmark's parent company, A&P, went bankrupt. Pathmark store leases were offered to other grocery stores by the bankruptcy court. Not all leases were picked up.

Unknown said...

The headline of this story is, I have to say, patronizing, insulting, condescending - otherwise fine.
Also - per one of the quotes, throwing someone under the bus is pinning blame on them for something gone awry. The shoppers of Pathmark are being abandoned, not thrown under a bus. Making noise about this is essential in a democracy. The point should always be (separate from sheer rage and accusations of greed and avarice, which didn't even work for Mark Twain when he tried it on Commodore Vanderbilt) what do people need. What exactly do they want to have remain on that portion of 125th Street? Sadly for many, Harlem is land that has been re-discovered by business and will start to look like any other place on the Island. It's gut-wrenching for those of us who can remember back to the 70's just how colorful, bewildering and even sublime the neighborhood used to be - part of the mythical kingdom which was New York City. Activism anyone?

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I did a double-take when I saw your post today. I was in the closing Gowanus Pathmark on Saturday - another dispiriting scene. I haven't followed the East Harlem situation that closely, but I'm assuming it was also connected to the A&P bankruptcy? Their supermarkets, including all the Pathmarks, were auctioned off in October. Many of the leases were bought by other supermarkets, but the Gowanus store, like the one on East 125th, was not, and is unlikely to re-open as another grocery business - more likely a high end clothes store, wedding hall (!) or something else more profitable than food. It was bought by a real-estate developer - Joyland LLC. Yes, Joyland. The owner of Hamilton Plaza, where the Pathmark is located, actually wanted to keep a supermarket there, and appealed to the bankruptcy judge, but the sale was approved.
Supermarkets don't have the profit margin developers require - to hell with shoppers & employees. The Gowanus one is (was) just a few blocks from Whole Foods. Both of them are right on the canal, but you couldn't imagine a more different clientele. I've spent a fair bit of time talking to workers there in recent months - heartbreaking. The A&P fat cats got fabulous severance deals, of course, while the Pathmark workers, promised some sort of (minimal) severance pay, received nothing in the end.

Investors at the NYC Real Estate Expo earlier this month talked about having to look farther afield:

Office market performance kicked off the New York Observer’s “Boots on the Ground versus Eyes on the Prize” panel, with David Greene, president of brokerage services at MHP Real Estate Services, describing a “relentless” leasing environment in the city...
...From an investment sales perspective, “it’s been preposterous,” said Meridian Investment Sales’ David Schechtman.
...Tim Wang, head of investment research at Clarion Partners, said the city’s real estate cycle has already matured to the point where “all the low-hanging fruits are gone” and investors “have to work twice as hard” to find value.
...“There’s no place in the city that is not hip, that is not cool,” he (Schectman) added, using Lightstone Group’s recent $41 million sale of the former Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas in the Bronx to Extell Development – which Schechtman brokered – as an example. “If you build it, they will come.” (The Real Deal)

The bastards.

Unknown said...

no amount of activism can stop globalization. local goverments cannot do much. many cities are vanishing world wide. many buildings being demolished including entire cities. (not everythng is about highend, its basically plastic corporate culture). i am too old & have seen too much to get upset @ this point. since there are many poor/lower middle people in the world & NY, there must be businesses to accomodate. maybe that can be a project for this site? interview residents who speak some english, see what they are doing. wouldnt surprise me if they eat @ macdonalds, shop @ walmart. bland oneworld culture. signed, the voice of doom

Brian said...

What can you say, so many changes to 125th in the last 25 years. 125 St. had sort of been completely stuck in 1920s and 30s until the Magic Johnson developments came along in the 90s. A unique wonderful place in many respects. But so run down. When President Clinton took an office there it was heralded. A visit there transported you back in time. Many stores and institutions and buildings unique to 125th alone. But now it is a victim of its own success as much of the african american community has been under seige by rising property values. Now its more like a mall in Jersey.

Jill said...

This Pathmark is technically in Spanish Harlem, East Harlem, El Barrio, which is a really distinct area than Harlem. It is far less gentrified overall because, I believe, the housing stock is very much NYCHA and crumbling tenements, and the new buildings are nearly all income restricted. There are some brownstones that are beautiful, but often crumbling, unlike so many of them in Harlem which have been renovated to their previous glory (and sell for upwards of $3 million). That Extell sees a shiny new condo here is curious. There is another site on the south side of the street that has been excavated but not started, that is labelled as giant luxury condos but it's been stalled for quite a while.

The housing around this store is almost all NYCHA, and a population who very much need a place to buy affordable food and fresh food, which isn't readily available up there. Down toward 116th there are some great Mexican small markets, but not up there, few and far between.

There is also the Metro North entrance just a block away, which has been taken over by a very sad homeless population that is smoking (do you smoke it, I don't even know) synthetic marijuana, which is nothing like regular marijuana. DiBlasio did a sweep of the area, which only resulted in them moving to other spots, including around the 116th Street 6 train entrance.

Also, there are pretty regular reports of murders, robberies, stabbings etc in this general area, far more than I ever heard about when I lived downtown. The shiny fancy downtown has cleaned up much faster than up here, but clearly it is on its way as people are getting pushed out of downtown and for regular income people it is impossible to find a new home there.

The retail in East Harlem is really in disarray. So many empty stores, especially in the new buildings. The mom and pops are mostly in the older tenement buildings but I've not seen too many new stores opening anywhere, only closing. There are, fortunately, way more supermarkets than other areas of the city, but also way fewer markets that sell fresh vegetables and fruit. This Pathmark was particularly nice, very big and bright and fairly clean. The produce was, however, pretty spendy.

I had no idea about Demolition Depot being in trouble. That is so disturbing. It's an incredible building and visiting it is like going on a vacation to another land, such cool stuff and so fun to look at, Disneyland for the antique junky.

Thanks for covering this. It's a place in real flux and the future is uncertain, though Extell seems to think it is very bright.

John K said...

Jeremiah, I'm always suspicious of anything published in The New York Daily News, but that article you link to, "East Harlem Pathmark land sold to make way for luxury apartments – but nonprofit involved in deal says they haven’t seen a dime", is an eye opener! Thank you for posting this entry and the link. (I couldn't open the Wall Street Journal link, though.)

Rev. Calvin Butts, under Abyssinian's auspices, has apparently and repeatedly sold off Harlem's real prime estate for the highest dollar and yet now Abyssinian can't make payroll or file its taxes? Where did all that money go? Why isn't anyone auditing Abyssian and demanding to know what went on, especially since many of its parishioners are probably also feeling the effects of Butts' actions? And why hasn't the East Harlem Triangle received its fair share? Can all of Abyssinian's apparently duplicitous actions, like hiring a high-priced attorney and selling the land without East Harlem Triangle's assent, be legal? Can't a judge stop the sale? I don't know the law well enough but it sounds like there are grounds for challenging each step of Abyssinian's actions.

I'm also glad that you highlight how this Extell sale is a direct growth of Bloomberg's rezoning and is linked directly to the rapid hypergentrification of NYC as a whole. You also point out that De Blasio has effectively thrown in the towel, and that he is as an enabler of gentrification as his predecessor (making him perhaps even more repellant, since he claims to be a progressive). Lastly, I appreciate that you emphasize how this sale grossly disadvantages the poor, working and even middle class residents nearby, though billionaires and their plutocratic grooms like De Blasio, Calvin Butts, etc., could hardly care less. It's all that's wrong with NYC and so many cities across the country distilled into a typical example. What's truly sad is that most people don't even have a clue about what's happening or how they'll end up suffering as a result sooner rather than later.

BTW, you probably saw this outrageousness, but if not: "Here's a picture of Brooklyn's real-estate bubble" (tiny home on sale for $1.25 million)!