Monday, November 11, 2013

Where's it all going?

It looks like NO711 is headed towards a racially divided face-off. NO711 is 100% white and mostly middle-class. Store employees are neither. 

Two months ago, when the opening seemed inevitable, I asked 7-Eleven Corp if they'd be willing to give back to the community. Their public relations consultant agreed. I suggested engaging with youth services, men's shelters, services for abused spouses and healthy food services. Together we began looking for options. But, as one local social service director explained to me, the social service organizations here depend on the good will of the local community, so it is unlikely that any service will collaborate with 7-Eleven as long as a local group like NO711 opposes it. 

Meanwhile, the 7-Eleven store opened despite a stop work order. Apparently 7-Eleven feels that their illegally placed refrigerator units and industrial fans are the building owner Jared Kushner's problem, not theirs. That's a low blow for 7-Eleven, but they've got a high commercial rent to pay, and with the rent Kushner's getting from them, it's even lower of Kushner not to resolve the stop work order immediately. But what does he care?

The store will, following standard procedure, give its outdated foods to a church soup kitchen, in this case the church on Avenue B.

So the store is here, so is NO711, an ugly race confrontation is imminent, and no community give-back beyond the pro forma. 

At a meeting with the NO711 group in June, I let the group know that I didn't want to be involved beyond cutting the checks for the grant that I got for them as the block association treasurer. I support NO711 as neighbors, but years ago I recognized that the neighborhood as it is today is nothing that I beleive strongly enough about to work to preserve.  It's a gentrified neighborhood, belonging moslty to youth of privilege. I accept that reality. I stay here only because I have an affordable apartment a block away from a park and a pleasant library I enjoy, and within walking distance of Chinatown and the East River, and I know this place and many of its people of whom I am fond. 

In September, the 11th Street ABC Block Association board asked 7-Eleven to meet with the block. They wanted to meet with our board alone (presumably to gain the credibility of having met with the block association) but would not commit to meeting with the block (presumably because it would be a public meeting and many of the explanations of their business model might not look good to the press). When we insisted on an open block meeting, they asked to meet with me alone, not as a representative of the Block Association or NO711. I agreed. That's when we got started on a community give-back. I wish it would go further. 

Lately my feelings have been all over the place. Would a zoning restriction on chain stores save the local butcher? Probably not. It would save New York for upscale restaurants. That'd be great for tourists who look to NY for a change from suburbia, but I don't feel that as something worth fighting for. I don't feel proud of washing my hands of all this, and I wish 7-Eleven had backed out long ago, but I don't see the situation now going towards good for anyone. The corporation appears to be still willing to give back to the community. But the residents around the store are unhappy and you can't blame them.