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'Special District' Would Limit Big Chain Stores, Encourage Mom-and-Pops

By Allegra Hobbs | June 14, 2016 3:32pm | Updated on June 14, 2016 7:10pm
 Community members fear the displacement of small business in the neighborhood and the proliferation of big chain stores.
Community members fear the displacement of small business in the neighborhood and the proliferation of big chain stores.
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Landmarks Preservation Commission

EAST VILLAGE — A neighborhood organization is introducing a plan to create a “Special Purpose District” in the East Village to keep out big chain stores and support mom-and-pop businesses.

The East Village Community Coalition has drafted a study of retail in the neighborhood in response to community-wide anxiety surrounding the displacement of small businesses, and has proposed the creation of a district that would forbid or severely limit new chain stores.

Cutting down on so-called “formula retail” stores — spots with “standardized” merchandise and decor such as Duane Reade and McDonald’s — will help preserve the character of the neighborhood for the sake of longtime locals, said the organization’s executive director.

“We’re emphasizing the importance of preserving retail diversity in the neighborhood and ensuring the residents’ needs are met,” said Tehmina Brohi at Community Board 3’s recent Economic Development Committee meeting. “There are people that live in this neighborhood, and we want to make this a livable neighborhood where their daily needs are met.”

The study, shared on the community board's website, explores a handful of approaches to keeping chains to a minimum within the proposed district, spanning north to south from East Houston Street to East 14th Street and falling between Third Avenue and Avenue D.

According to a study conducted by the organization, the neighborhood currently has 63 large chain stores, comprising 3.6 percent of storefront spaces in the East Village.

One proposal seeks to ban “formula retail” altogether, while another would allow chains only in areas zoned with commercial overlays.

Another recommendation is to impose a 2,500-square-foot space limit to discourage the influx of stores, like Duane Reade, that use a lot of floor space. This approach would also forbid landlords from combining storefronts to increase floor space.

Lastly, the study puts forward a third option, which would require large stores looking to open in the East Village to apply for a special permit. The store’s permit request would be evaluated based on the surrounding retail landscape, taking into account such factors as the number of chain stores already in the area.

Community board members voiced concern that a request for a full ban on “formula retail” would be rejected by the city. However, allowing the chains within commercial overlays would limit the restriction only to side streets and largely residential areas, said district manager Susan Stetzer.

“It’s really not very limiting,” she said.

The community board is considering the organization’s suggestions as it seeks to propose a special retail district, though it is still early in the stages of development, Stetzer said.