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Locals to Protest Rent Hike for W. 14th St. Associated as Closure Looms

By Maya Rajamani | March 11, 2016 5:08pm | Updated on March 14, 2016 8:55am
 The Associated Supermarket at 255 W. 14th St. in Chelsea is in danger of closing.
The Associated Supermarket at 255 W. 14th St. in Chelsea is in danger of closing.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CHELSEA — Local officials hope a protest rally will save a decades-old supermarket that could be headed for the chopping block.

On Sunday afternoon, City Councilman Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and other officials will sponsor a rally outside the Associated Supermarket at 255 W. 14th St. between Seventh and Eighth avenues to protest a rent hike that could shutter the store when its lease is up at the end of May.

About a month ago, property manager Pan Am Equities informed the store that it would be tripling its current rent, store supervisor Walter Brnjac said.

“It works out to about three times what we’re paying now,” said Brnjac, who has worked at the store since it opened in 1989. “It’s just not feasible — not even close.”

Brnjac's business partner Joe Falzon, 74, said the store is currently paying $32,000 a month, but couldn't say exactly how much they would have to pay after the rent increase.

"We didn't really discuss it. The rent we're paying now is almost up to the limit of what we can pay... but even if he doubles the rent, we still won't be able to [pay]," he said.

When the supermarket first moved into the space on West 14th Street, the landlord was “happy to have them” because the site was a difficult one to fill, Brnjac said.

“It’s not like it’s a total surprise to us. You can see how the rents are in Manhattan,” he said.

A representative for Pan Am Equities reached by phone on Friday declined to comment on the alleged rent increase. An employee at Associated Supermarket’s corporate headquarters, meanwhile, said she had no knowledge of the closure threat.

“That’s the first we’ve heard of it,” she said.

For many Chelsea and Greenwich Village residents, the supermarket is one of the only sources for affordable groceries in their neighborhoods, Johnson said in a statement.

He and other protesters plan to ask the landlord to negotiate a new lease with the store owner.

“No one should be forced to travel long distances to buy food, especially seniors on fixed incomes,” he said.

“Although we recognize that the landlord is under no obligation to charge a reasonable rent, in this case the neighborhood is going to suffer at the expense of corporate profits.”

On Friday, Chelsea resident Carl Larson, 64, who has lived in an apartment at West 17th Street and Eighth Avenue for the past 20 years, said he shops at the store “every weekend.”

He picks up packaged meats and other items there at lower prices than other stores offer.

“I hope it doesn’t [close],” he said. “I'd have to cut out some of my diet, actually.”

A West 23rd Street resident named Mark, who declined to give his last name, said he wasn’t surprised by the news.

"How abnormal in Chelsea,” the 67-year-old said sarcastically. “I would definitely be sorry to see it go.”

News of the rent increase follows in the footsteps of a rent hike that has threatened to put an Associated Supermarket in Washington Heights out of business.

That store’s landlord agreed to postpone eviction proceedings after hundreds of locals rallied to save it.

On Friday, Brnjac said he appreciated the sentiment behind the rally planned for Sunday, but expressed doubts that it would help.

“It’s a private property. The landlord can choose what they want,” he said. “It’s not like it’s city-owned or subsidized.”

Falzone said he felt there was "no sense in negotiating."

"I know customers are upset — we've been there a long time... but unfortunately we can't compete in the rent market that the area went up to now," he added.