Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CB3's answer to chain stores

CB3's new plan for our neighborhood:
prevent the spread of chain stores by installing bars in every storefront!! Brilliant, no?

We all hate chain stores, right? They attract rowdy, noisy crowds at all hours of night, play loud music and create a nightlife scene with mobs loitering in the street yapping into cell phones, and they give our once radical and cutting-edge arts neighborhood that attracted artists, activists and intellectuals from all over the world -- give it a frat party reputation, a scene that everyone but the partiers and their playmates assiduously avoid.

Wait a minute. I'm confused. Chain stores, non local and offensive as they are, serve working people's and residents' basic needs quietly during the day. It's the non local upscale bars that pushed up commercial rents and pushed out local businesses, decimating and ruining the culture of the East Village and LES.

And Starbucks is actually closing stores.

CB3 appears to have lost all reason, following like sheep this chain-stores-oh-my-goodness-no! argument put to them by -- a bar owner, of course!

It was a meeting to remember. The SLA committee presented a reasonable and well-deliberated recommendation to deny a license to a new bar opening in a location on 3rd Avenue near the NYU, New School and SVA dorms, an area fast becoming a crowded nightlife destination.

The committee had all the right reasons against the bar:

1. the location had no previous license, so this bar would actually be adding to the numbers of licenses in the area
2. the bar had no community support -- the owners presented no petitions of community support (the committee standardly requires this evidence of public benefit and community interest),
3. the community had complained to the committee about the required community notification
4. the community had complained to the committee about the proposed hours of operation
5. the bar would be within 500 feet of six other liquor-licensed establishments

in other words, the community plainly didn't want the bar and the owners had made no effort to appease the community's concerns or engage the community or even properly notify the community as required under the law, displaying unprofessional disregard for both law and community. The owners of the bar didn't even show up last night to argue their case.

Yet a well-known bar owner and Board member stood up and announced that a bar would be better than a Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts.

Magic words. No one wants to be caught defending chain stores. Can't go wrong invoking chain stores. Chain stores suck. And what's more, they're politically incorrect, they're unhip: they're not chic or trendy or cool. Comparing bars to chain stores is an easy win for bars -- IF the people you are talking to don't think for themselves, but just follow like sheep whatever sounds good.

He also argued that the bar would provide economic benefit to the community (more so than Dunkin' Donuts?) and this particular owner owns many successful bars throughout the city (so aren't they non local, just like a chain store?) and have a proven track record -- a less successful bar would have to bring in promoters to sustain itself and promoters cause disruption (but if the committee denied this bar, why would they ever approve a less viable bar?).

None of these gaping holes in his transparently meritless "argument" were even so much as questioned.

The CB voted to override the SLA committee's recommendation to deny.

...even though the bar owners didn't attend the meeting to present their case or answer questions, even though chain stores don't make noise, don't stay open til 4am, don't attract crowds of rowdy students, don't contribute to the nightlife destination that has completely undermined that character and reputation of the East Village and LES.

Chain stores are not worse than non local bars, unless you happen to be in the nightlife business, in which case more bars add to the destination value. Bars do not provide any greater economic benefit to the community than any other business, unless you happen to be in the nightlife business, in which case more bars draw more crowds into nightlife establishments in the neighborhood-turned-destination.

Bar destinations drive up commercial rents that drive out local businesses. They toss the neighborhood upside down into a daytime wasteland and a nighttime warzone.

But they provide revenue for the city.

That's what you and your neighborhood are serving -- the city coffers.

We always had bars here, but they were local and drew funky, low-income, edgy real folk. That's not the current scene. New York's historically avant-garde community, radical ghetto, hotbed of the arts, was destroyed by this new, culture-impoverished, upscale nightlife industry, plain and simple. I don't like chain stores, but they didn't destroy the neighborhood.

The city views this destruction as "saving" the neighborhood from its poverty. That's 'cause the city sees only revenue, not people or culture.

After the CB voted down the denial, 15 CB members actually voted to approve this bar without any stipulations or negotiations with the owners, to give it carte blanche on the basis of second-hand assurances from -- a bar owner.

Fortunately, 17 voted to send it back to committee, a narrow margin.

Those 15 benefited the nightlife industry at the expense of the community. Surely the CB has got to adhere at least to basic responsibilities of community, process and review.

CB votes are roll-call and public record. Go find out who has a brain and who's braindead.

And people criticize me for being skeptical of the CB...


boweryboogie said...

When it comes to the crowded streets of the LES, I'll take a chain store over a bar any day. The last thing we need is more Hummer Limos on the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Will anyone ask Alexandra Militano that works for the district attorneys office and heads sla3, Susan Stetzer and gang if any of them think it is a conflict of interest that good buddy David McWater owns so many bars?
What a tight little group that supposedly represents the interests of the community.

rob said...

Legally, there's only a conflict of interests if he votes on his own bars or business. With McWater it's more a conflict of perspective. He seems to view nightlife as contributing to the attractions of the neighborhood, to the high profile of the EV/LES as a hip, desirable destination.

Chain stores do not attract. They depend on other existing businesses to support them -- you find them in shopping districts and around dense office building areas. Chain stores serve working people. People don't flock to a neighborhood just for the chain stores.

So it's understandable that MvWater prefers nightlife to chain stores. He thinks he's doing the neighborhood a service. When you look at the demographics of the neighborhood you begin to see that it's a service to the upscale and, on the whole, white population. It's a largely white-owned industry -- not wholly, but mostly, and it's a largely white patronage -- not wholly, but mostly.

These bar owners came here when the neighborhood was already gentrifying. I think they just don't know what the place was all about. They seem to have mistaken the trendy bustle of nightlife for the crazy marginality of the EV when it was still interesting to grown adults.

Nightlife owners often remark on the poverty and danger of the pre-nightlife-destination EV. This is an extremely narrow and self-serving conception of what the neighborhood was about. They don't remark on the loss of bookstores, for example. We had some of the greatest used books stores here -- my favorites were on 7th between 1st and A and Paul's on 14th Street between 1st and 2nd (?), which later moved to Avenue B. If you want to know how the neighborhood has changed: we lost almost all of the bookstores and the black population here has been decimated.

Our neighborhood now serves white money attached to cell-phones -- exactly as Bloomberg wants it.

Anonymous said...

What is interesting is that Susan Stetser raised a fuss when patrons of Mo Pitkins walked north on Avenue A. Why??? Becaue she lives there. That's right it is a problem when the nightlife affects Susan Stetsers sleep.

When a resident of the East Village goes to CB3 to get documentation regarding new applications, they have to fill out a FOIL request and wait. Susan is never forthcoming with information. I shouldn't say never, she certainly helps her "friends". She helped 4th street fight EU for what a year.

What a waste of our taxpayer dollars, yeah she gets paid, rather well, allegedly $70 thousand, give or take, to control the community. To keep us all in line, to assure that the agenda of those "in charge" is carried through. neighborhood.

Jill said...

Why is it a choice between a bar and a chain store? Is that all that is left? Ridiculous.

boweryboogie said...

speaking of which, i wonder how much longer Bluestockings will last now that the Thompson LES is open for business.

rob said...

Right on, Jill!!
One more difference between chain stores and bars: chain stores don't generally invade the side streets; bars do. So it's just not true that a chain store will fill any space not taken by a bar.

Bookstores are the canary in the mine. Look at 4th Avenue -- it was once lined with used bookstores. Blackout on B disappeared -- how many years ago?