Sunday, June 30, 2013

How doth the little crocodile...

NO711 attended Thursday's Seward Park co-op meeting with the 7-Eleven corporation described in the Lo-down. It was a friendly meeting. 

The co-op has had bad luck with previous commercial tenants. After a long internal dispute, the co-op agreed that a 7-Eleven was the fix they needed to support the co-op financially, though not without qualms about the character of the store. 

Residents expressed concerns about 7-Eleven offerings. The regional manager committed, as a "local-friendly neighbor," to selling just about whatever the locals might want -- lox, kimchee, you name it, 7-Eleven will stock it for you. But when a couple of residents asked if the 7-Eleven would refrain from selling pizza so as not to threaten the local pizza places (there's a really excellent one right there on Grand), the friendly mask was drawn aside. Even after the co-op offered to promote 7-Eleven in the media as a local hero if it took pizza out of its offerings, the manager refused without hesitation. These smart and savvy co-op residents had cornered the corporate spokesperson in a checkmate. The meeting was really an opportunity for 7-Eleven to expand its offerings and compete better in the local market. I don't see this as friendly at all, but actually dangerous. 

I'd suggest that the co-op residents not ask 7-Eleven to expand its offerings, but limit itself to its basic services. Otherwise the 7-Eleven is going to take the profit margin out of really unique and wonderful stores like the Pickle Guys, and meat off the table of their employees. If 7-Eleven starts selling pickles successfully, you may never again see the full variety of dills, or pickled garlic, peppers and tomatoes. 

Someone else in the audience asked whether 7-Eleven will kill local bodegas. The regional manager's response: 7-Eleven will help convert any bodega into a 7-Eleven if the owner feels the competition is too stiff. 

I hope the residents didn't accept this explanation. Many bodegas -- probably most -- are too small to convert to a 7-Eleven. Even more obvious, if a 7-Eleven opens directly across the street from a bodega, the corporation is not about to allow a conversion. Two 7-Elevens on opposite sides of one street? As the spokespersons said last night several times, they choose their locations based on data analysis. Despite the friendly PR presentation last night, they're there to compete, not be friends. It's a business. 

After the presentation, the real estate rep confirmed to me that the corporation guarantees the rent of the store. That's great for the co-op but it's exaclty the kind of monopolistic ploy that encourages landlords to raise commercial rents beyond the capacity of the old, ethnic stores and local services. The corporation can blame it on the landlords, but the incentive to evict comes straight from the corporation. 

When asked whether the corporation cares about a community that doesn't want a 7-Eleven, the real estate rep explained that they choose their locations based on foot traffic. NO711 had to point out that foot traffic is not always local. If there's a nightlife strip nearby, the foot traffic will be largely non local, and no local voting-by-their-feet will make a lick of difference in the profit margin. In other words, 7-Eleven's business model cares about access to consumers, not community sentiments. 

None of this is surprising. It's a business. But it's not just a business. It's powerful, monopolistic, unstoppable and non local. It's the neoliberal future around your corner. It's an omnivorous shark that cannot rest, its drive and motive, inaccessible and remote.

I was surprised at a couple of residents complaining about bodega pricing. Shopping at a bodega is an art, folks. They're all distinct as each bodega identifies its local market. One sells ice-cream sandwiches to the local kids $.50 @, a better buy you cannot find anywhere in the city. Another will fix you an egg-and-bacon sandwich folded into a roll for $2.50 -- you can't beat that either. But the chips will all be list-price. It takes a bit of a flaneur to appreciate the side-ways of a great city. 

[As an addendum: I asked them whether they will employ part-timers (of course you'd expect that they hire part-timers, and in fact they advertise lots of part-time jobs on their website and elsewhere, but I felt compelled to confirm) and at what ratio to full-timers. He said there would, of course, be part-timers but he didn't have any ratio stats. I asked if that's because it's up to the franchisee. He said yes.]

The 11th Street Block Association will probably have to invite 7-Eleven to such a meeting eventually, but the situation will be quite different. 7-Eleven on A is not dependent on local consuming as it is on Grand. Here the store will be playing to the barflies, not the locals. 


alissafleck said...

Hi Rob, I'm a reporter with Our Town Downtown who would love to talk to you about this subject -- not just the 7-Eleven's expansion, but chain stores on the LES in general. Would you be willing to chat via email?

Alissa Fleck

Alycia said...

This is cool!