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Candy Store Plan Sickens Upper West Siders

By Leslie Albrecht | December 14, 2011 7:10am

UPPER WEST SIDE — A new sweets emporium is getting a sour reception on the Upper West Side.

Locals say Sugar & Plumm Purveyors of Yumm, a combination candy store and restaurant slated to open on Amsterdam Avenue and West 78th Street this spring, will degrade the neighborhood because it is "garish" and "too suburban."

Neighborhood resident David Schatsky recently launched a "Stop Sugar & Plumm" Facebook page and website decrying the store's "tacky aesthetic," and the fact that it's replacing five neighborhood businesses — a locksmith, a shoe repair business, an optometrist, the 24-hour Shining Star diner and Granny-Made clothing.

"(Sugar & Plumm) swept away...businesses run by average people to replace them with a chain owned by a member of the 1 percent club," Schatsky wrote on the website, referring to Sugar & Plumm's CEO Lamia Jacobs, reportedly a former oil trader who grew up in Paris and now lives in Greenwich, Conn.

Schatsky told DNAinfo he thought the Occupy Wall Street-style jab was fitting because, to him, the arrival of Sugar & Plumm was another nail in the coffin for the Upper West Side's shabbier past.

When Schatsky moved to the neighborhood 16 years ago, it was more "bohemian" and more "humble," and renting an apartment cost half what it does today, he said. He said he's watched in dismay as small neighborhood businesses have been replaced by glitzy national retailers such as Godiva chocolates and Coach.

Schatsky, 50, an industry analyst who researches environmental sustainability, said he was "horrified" when he saw drawings of Sugar & Plumm's future exterior at a recent Community Board 7 meeting.

"It reminded me of the malls I went to when I was kid in the suburbs, with fake antique mirrors and candy-colored lighting," Schatsky said. "It really degrades the quality of life and the whole idea of a walkable hometown feel that we had."

Another local resident, Dominique Isbeque, said she's troubled by the "garish" light fixtures Sugar & Plumm plans to use on the outside of its store — similar to barber shop poles with purple, orange and yellow stripes.

"They're not quaint like our neighborhood," Isbeque said.

She's hopeful neighborhood opposition will convince Sugar & Plumm to modify the lighting, as Duane Reade did in response to community concerns about a bright sign at West 72nd Street and Broadway.

Sugar & Plumm will take over five storefronts on the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between West 78th and 79th streets that shuttered in rapid succession, fueling concerns that mom and pop businesses can't survive on the Upper West Side anymore.

As the storefronts remained dark for more than a year in some cases, an anonymous neighborhood crusader plastered the block with stickers labelling the vacant businesses as "neighborhood rot."

Now that Sugar & Plumm's cotton candy pink plywood has gone up around the empty stores, the so-called Sticker Bandit isn't exactly celebrating, he told DNAinfo in an email.

The anonymous activist, who says he or she is an Upper West Sider, slammed Sugar & Plumm as a "live version of Candyland [that] will be pimping corn syrup to the kids who go to the two schools less than a block away."

The Sticker Bandit added, "The five businesses this vat of fat replaces were practical, functioning 'real New York' shops."

Debra Kravet, owner of Apthorp Cleaners, down the block from Sugar & Plumm's future home, said she was glad to see signs of life on the formerly derelict block.

But she wasn't sure the new arrival would improve her bottom line.

"It'll bring more people to the block," Kravet said. "Whether or not they'll be my customers, I don't know. If it's bringing people from out of town, that's not going to do me any good."

Kravet and Schatsky are worried Sugar & Plumm wants to cater to tourists. The store has one location in Paramus, N.J. and recently announced plans to open in downtown Brooklyn, Crain's reported.

A Sugar & Plumm spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the store is "very excited" to open its first Manhattan location on the Upper West Side, and eager for neighbors to stop in and say hello once it's up and running.

"We fell in love with the neighborhood and look forward to being a part of the community," the statement reads. "By opening this Upper West Side location, we are employing local residents and hope to be a place that all of the neighborhood families can enjoy."

Community Board 7's Preservation Committee recently voted in favor of Sugar & Plumm's facade improvements. Next the issue heads to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a hearing on Dec. 20.

Neither agency can halt Sugar & Plumm's opening altogether, but Schatsky said he still wants Upper West Siders to debate the issue. Schatsky said he'd like to see locals discuss possible changes to zoning laws that could help preserve neighborhood character, though he admits he's not sure exactly how to go about that.

"In a weird way I take inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, which couldn't get itself together to make specific policy recommendations, but they wanted to start a conversation," Schatsky said.

"People feel strongly about this. We should talk about it and talk about what kind of future we want for our neighborhood."