Nearly 50 residents, small business owners, activists and crusties alike attended an anti-Starbucks rally Thursday evening in the East Village.
The crowd gathered at St. Marks and Avenue A, where the chain plans to open a new store, to discuss what another Starbucks would mean for the community. Increased corporate presence, increased rents, increased tenant harassment, increased property taxes, increased vacant properties, decreased retail diversity, decreased community involvement– the list of fears went on.
While some passersby paused to say those at the rally were wasting their time or that they’d rather see a Dunkin’ Donuts, the Starbucks protesters were resilient and continued to fight their good fight.
Holly Slayton has rented a studio for her shop, Artikal Handcrafted Millinery, for the past 25 years and said she was denied the opportunity to renew her lease this year because her landlord wanted to raise the rent beyond what she could afford. “They wouldn’t even re-sign the lease,” she said. “I tried to stay around trying to negotiate. They just wanted it vacant.”
Slayton spoke at the Community Board 3 special zoning district public forum last month and even though she’s lost her studio, she’s committed to preventing chain stores from populating the neighborhood.The rally was organized by the East Village Independent Merchants Association, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and the East Village Community Coalition; there was free coffee courtesy of MUD. Calls for a special zoning district and a hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act were made by multiple speakers and a list of several locally owned coffee shops, or Starbucks alternatives, was read aloud and distributed.
City Council candidate and lifelong Lower East Sider Carlina Rivera was also at the rally and garnered the support of an attendee who said she won his vote by showing up and supporting a special zoning district.
“It’s an important step for us to show that we are done,” Rivera said, adding that local residents “want to keep our neighborhood authentic and we want to make sure that how it remains authentic is having the local mom and pops that you know.”This isn’t just an issue that Rivera sees as a threat to the affordability and retail diversity, it’s something that is also “very personal” for Rivera. “My husband owns an independent coffee shop and I know how challenging it is when you have to pay rent and you pay living wages and you have to deal with the bureaucracies of city agencies. I’m also here because I support the groups that are here and the tenants.”
Maria Guajardo, Croissanteria owner of two years, held one of the signs that had been passed out to everyone: “Shop local! Not another Starbucks!” She said she went to the rally because she’s concerned she’ll lose business and not be able to afford her increasing property taxes and rent, which is around $5,000 now, but is determined to stay in the neighborhood. “I love the area,” she said. “I love the people. All the locals are amazing. We all know each other’s names. We know the drinks they like. What they do. It’s all a community. They’re like friends.”
Guajardo recognizes it may be appealing for people to go to a familiar chain like Starbucks, but encourages everyone to try something new and local, like Croissanteria, which is only two blocks away from the future Saint Marks Starbucks. She also has a rewards card for frequent customers and is planning on adding more teas, lemonades and flavor pumps to compete with the international chain.