Neighbors rallied outside the Lower East Side Pathmark last Thursday.
Hell no, store won’t go, protestors hope
By Julie Shapiro
Waving colorful signs and shouting even more colorful slogans, 75 people turned out last Thursday to protest the rumored closure of the Cherry St. Pathmark.
The crowd gathered in front of Pathmark with a banner reading “S.O.S. Save Our Supermarket” and alternated between spirited chants and speakers.
“If you take this away from us, where are we going to shop?” a mother of four shouted into the megaphone. “We’ve got nothing… We cannot afford to live around here anymore.”
Marquis Jenkins, the rally’s M.C., stood atop a stepladder riling the crowd. His voice getting hoarse, Jenkins lead the crowd in chants. “Whose streets?” he called out. “Our streets!” they shouted back. “Whose Pathmark? Our Pathmark! Whose community? Our community!”
“This is a symbol of what’s happening in our community,” Marquis told the crowd. “Say ‘No’ to new development.”
The sale of Pathmark to A&P became final earlier this month, and rumors of development on the site have worried customers all fall. Contractors took soil samples on the site a few months ago and employees had told customers that the store would close. The store sits beneath the Manhattan Bridge and adjacent to several public housing projects. The protestors were worried about what they see as the worst-case scenario: high-rise luxury condos.
“We don’t need no more condos in this neighborhood,” Eric Latorre called into the megaphone. “It’ll be a sad [day] if we see a wrecking ball smash this place down.” Latorre, who lives at Pike and Cherry Sts., has been coming to Pathmark since he was 16 years old, and especially likes that the supermarket is open 24 hours.
“We see gentrification and luxury developing everywhere,” shouted Esther Wang, from the Chinatown Tenants Union. “Say ‘No’ to the closing of Pathmark, say ‘No’ to the loss of affordable services and say ‘No’ to gentrification.”
In a separate effort, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver met with A & P executives two weeks ago to advocate for the supermarket.
“I let them know that this community wants us to retain a Pathmark supermarket,” Silver said in a telephone interview.
“What we need is more, not less.”
Silver said A & P officials didn’t tell him what the chances are the store will remain open.
“They understood I was not looking to wait months,” Silver added. “It was clear to them that this was something important.” Silver said people should keep shopping at Pathmark to encourage the store to stay open.
A & P and Pathmark executives did not return calls for comment.
At the rally, Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, took the megaphone to tell the crowd that she, too, has shopped at Pathmark over the years.
“The Pathmark supermarket is much more than just a place to buy food,” Gotbaum said. “This Pathmark is an anchor for the community.”
Paul Nagle, Councilmember Alan Gerson’s spokesperson, attended to represent Gerson, who was home sick in bed. Nagle told the crowd not to take Gerson’s absence as a sign of his apathy. “He’s really down with this cause,” Nagle told them. A representative of State Sen. Martin Connor also attended.
When Jamel Williams and his saxophone took the stage, someone from the audience referred to an unconfirmed developer rumor, calling out, “Play a funeral tune for Donald Trump.” Instead, Williams played the more festive “Winter Wonderland” a few days before Christmas.
Later, Williams accompanied several of the organizers in an original composition: “For the Holidays at Pathmark,” sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The lyrics include a true love who shops at Pathmark, bringing home 11 pounds of green beans, 10 cans of eggnog, and so on. Rather than the partridge in the pear tree, the chorus reached a crescendo at “No development luxury!”
After rumors circulated about Pathmark’s land being up for sale to developers, OUR (Organizing and Uniting Residents) Waterfront Alliance, a project of several Lower East Side and Chinatown groups, decided to get involved. Pathmark officials, though, wouldn’t give them any information.
“We kept coming up against a brick wall,” said Ginny Browne, economic development organizer for Good Old Lower East Side. “So, rather than wake up and read in the paper that it was sold, we wanted to be proactive, get out there, and put pressure on Pathmark.”
Pathmark is “an example of what we stand to lose” in the East River Waterfront development, Browne said. While Browne is excited about the open space in the waterfront plan, she doesn’t want to see the new pavilions along F.D.R. Dr. filled with high-end cafes and expensive retail and services.
“We want it to be developed in a way that speaks to the needs of the current community,” which includes the 30,000 public housing residents, Browne said. “We need to fight for development that meets our needs, not development that pushes us out.”
Ed Novak, 71, who was born in the Two Bridges neighborhood and has lived on Henry St. for the last 53 years, said the other local supermarkets are terrible.
Novak recalled the neighborhood’s strong Jewish, Italian and Irish population, but the crowd at Thursday’s rally was predominantly Chinese. Several speakers used translators, and most of the signs included both Chinese and English.
The chants focused on unity and mirrored the crowd’s diversity.
“Black, Asian, Latino, white,” the crowd shouted. “Communities together, fight, fight fight!”
Paul Newell, of Division St., has lived Downtown his whole life and told the crowd that not all of the neighborhood’s changes are bad.
“But when development comes and takes away access to affordable food, it’s not okay,” Newell said. “This is madness. It’s poor planning, poor government, and it’s not helping our community.”
Annie, 21, and Diana Woo, 20, two sisters who live in Rutgers Houses, were home from college on Christmas break when they heard Pathmark might be closing.
“We’re at Pathmark all the time, especially when there are really good sales,” Diana said as she chalked “Save Pathmark” messages on the sidewalk. At Cornell University, she has to take a 20-minute bus ride to get food, and she always boasts to her friends about the supermarket back home that is right across the street.
“It’s convenient and really affordable,” said Annie, who goes to SUNY-Binghamton. “I don’t know where else to go.”