Anti-7-Eleven Activists Hosting Bodega Tour to Support Local Shops

By Serena Solomon on January 31, 2013 9:56am 

EAST VILLAGE — A walking tour to support local bodegas marks the latest tactic for a group of fed-up East Village residents in their battle against the influx of 7-Eleven chain stores in their neighborhood.

The "No 7-Eleven" movement will host the walk this Saturday starting at midday and visit a handful of character-filled bodegas, such as Ray's Candy Store on Avenue A, to learn what makes each shop and operator unique.  The movement has gained traction over the past few weeks, with residents chalking anti-7-Eleven slogans on sidewalks, creating a Twitter account and even earning international media coverage.

"Now is the time that we need to discuss how important bodegas are to our neighborhood identity," said Bowery Poetry Club founder Bob Holman, who will lead the tour with fellow poet Eileen Myles. "We are going to pay tribute to the people — the center of the universe for our neighborhood."

An anti-7-Eleven forum held at the beginning of the month drew about 40 people, including Holman, with the group brainstorming ideas to keep the neighborhood largely free from chain stores.

A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, Margaret Chabris, said the chain has 32 locations in Manhattan and plans to open a total of 100 within the next five years. She added that almost every location is a franchise and often has a local owner.

The "No 7-Eleven" tour will begin outside what has become a focal point for the new movement — Avenue A and East 11th Street, where 7-Eleven's newest outpost is set to open in the coming weeks.

"It is a kind of cultural activism," Myles said. "I thought of the Tenement Museum [on the Lower East Side] and how they do it, and this is a way to highlight our living history."

Each bodega is different and often stocks products appealing to local residents, Myles explained. This is something that will be emphasized in the tour, with the end goal of increasing business at the bodegas, she said. 

"It is a ceremony to say that they are there and we appreciate them," Myles added.

Under the poetic guidance of both Myles and Holman — who coined the term “Pringle-izing" to describe the 7-Eleven effect on the city's unique neighborhoods — the tour will pay homage to bodegas that have become de-facto community centers.

"I came to this country and this is the only thing I know how to do," said Mike Ahal, 47, a Palestinian immigrant who owns Poppy's Gourmet Corner on Avenue A and East 12th Street.    

His deli will be one of the stops on Saturday's tour.

"It is personal. They [customers] come here because they feel comfortable," said Ahal, who studied industrial engineering but never ventured into the field.

"My neighbor upstairs, if he doesn't have 50 cents, he gives it to me later," he said. "That wouldn’t happen at a 7-Eleven."

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