By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Wanted at Columbus Square: mom and pop stores.
The retail complex that Upper West Siders complained was flooding their neighborhood with chain stores says it wants to rent space to small neighborhood businesses.
Columbus Square, which opened in 2009, is home to Whole Foods, T.J. Maxx, Sephora, Michael's and other big-box stores usually found in suburban malls.
"We want community businesses to help complete the equation of life, shopping, convenience and excitement in the area," said Winick's Executive Vice President Lori Shabtai in an e-mailed statement.
Representatives for Winick wouldn't say how many small retails spaces are available or how much they'll charge in rent. Columbus Square covers six blocks between West 97th and West 100th streets along Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. It also includes 780 apartments.
Paul Bunten, president of West Siders for Public Participation, said he laughed out loud when he heard that Winick is looking for small businesses.
Bunten sued developers in 2008 over Columbus Square, claiming the area wasn't zoned for chain stores.
He said residents have been telling Winick for years that they're desperate for small stores to serve basic needs, but the requests have fallen on deaf ears.
"We can buy pet food and cosmetics, but we can't buy a newspaper or get copies made," Bunten said. "[Winick] didn’t ever listen to the neighborhood when we said we needed our daily needs met by the stores, and now they’re turning around and saying they want them. I'm glad they've finally understood that men cannot live by big-box retail alone."
Some smaller business owners in the area also said they were skeptical about Winick's bid to recruit mom and pop stores.
Imran Ali, assistant manager at Columbus Wines and Spirits, and Paul Singh, owner of Sing & Sing Market across from Whole Foods, both said they doubted any neighborhood business would be able to afford rents at Columbus Square.
"What a hypocrisy," said Anne Cottavoz, owner of Columbus Natural Food, a small business one block south of Columbus Square. "The big stores are there to get rid of the small stores. They've been advertising those spaces for three years and it's still empty. That's why they're being so generous now."
Cottavoz, who said she's faced stiff competition from Whole Foods, recently posted a sign in her window urging customers to shop at local businesses like hers.
"People need to get the message," Cottavoz said. "If you want a store to be there, you need to shop there."
A recent study by the Center for an Urban Future found a 17 percent jump in the number of national chain stores on the Upper West Side between 2009 to 2010. The neighborhood had 68 such stores in 2009 and 80 in 2010.