Defending neighborhood character and small businesses
- The old P.S. 64, the former CHARAS / El Bohio Cultural and Community Center, has sat vacant for 15 years. Developer Gregg Singer plans to create a dorm there. PHOTO BY LINCOLN ANDERSON
BY SARA ROMANOSKI | Entering our tenth year, the East Village Community Coalition continues to address with concern the preservation of the neighborhood’s architectural and cultural character. In many ways we have made great progress; in others, the work has just begun. In the newly formatted, more accessible Web site www.evccnyc.org, we have a strong digital platform to aid our preservation and advocacy initiatives.
The shell of the old P.S. 64 is one such initiative that still remains just out of the community’s grasp even 15 years after the building’s improper sale by the city to private hands. Since April, a revised proposal for a multi-institutional dorm by the building’s controversial owner has inspired action, investigation, and patience as we await the city’s decision. We all know a dorm on the east side of Tompkins Square Park would overwhelm residential E. Ninth and 10th Sts. and does not satisfy the true intent of the deed restriction requiring the magnificent Beaux Arts landmark to be dedicated for community use.
We consider streetscapes composed of independent and local businesses to be essential to the character of the East Village. The products and services provided by local storefront businesses both meet the needs of locals and positively contribute to the neighborhood’s quality of life. Demographic, economic and policy shifts have created an increasingly difficult environment for these enterprises to thrive, and has resulted in the closing of many local businesses — some of which could be considered staples of the East Village in their own right. While we lament each individual loss, in aggregate, they threaten distinct qualities captured in the East Village’s diverse retail environment.
In response to pressures on small business owners, E.V.C.C. has launched a three-pronged strategy to advocate for stability in the East Village’s retail sector.
The first strategy is to guide consumer spending choices. We encourage consumers to commit more local dollars to local businesses. In its seventh edition, E.V.C.C.’s free “Get Local! Guide” to East Village shops now lists nearly 500 businesses and is available in local shops and cafes. In 2013 we introduced two new publications: December’s “East Village Holiday Shopping Guide,” and the “Local Alternatives to 7-Eleven” map, that latter which is a campaign that redirects shoppers toward more than 20 local businesses offering the same products and services as the Texas-owned 7-Eleven outpost on Avenue A.
Our second strategy is to make new policies to protect small businesses. The 7-Eleven wayfinding maps reintroduce the concept of Formula Retail Zoning, a tool to limit chain stores’ expansion in the East Village and prioritize the new and existing small businesses. This spring, E.V.C.C. will release a study on ways that the East Village can bring formula retail restrictions to New York City’s zoning code, followed by actions individuals can take to start challenging their spending patterns.
The third strategy is simple: Support local merchants. Earlier this month, E.V.C.C. convened the first informational meeting for the East Village Independent Merchants Association (EVIMA), a growing collective of several dozen business owners working to connect, support and promote small and independent businesses in the East Village. We are excited to have a community partner which shares our commitment to protecting retail diversity and its positive effects on the community.
Join us! If you are a merchant, please consider joining EVIMA. Finally, the Host Committee responsible for planning regular outreach events kicks off E.V.C.C.’s new monthly meetup series on April 1 at Dorian Grey Gallery, 437 E. Ninth St. Stay informed by visiting www.evccnyc.org.
Our efforts over the past decade and all that is to come are being chronicled in an organizational archive. In celebration of 10 years, we will share elements of this collection to showcase E.V.C.C.’s experience advocating for the protection and celebration of our neighborhood’s incomparable character.
Romanoski is managing director, East Village Community Coalition