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Corporate 'Grinches' Won't Donate to Holiday Lights Fund, Merchants Say

By Gwynne Hogan | November 18, 2016 1:51pm | Updated on November 21, 2016 8:46am
 Many chain stores along Bedford Avenue and Manhattan Avenue didn't donate to the holiday light funds, merchants said.
Many chain stores along Bedford Avenue and Manhattan Avenue didn't donate to the holiday light funds, merchants said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

GREENPOINT — Corporate grinches whose shops benefit from the festive spirit of the holiday lights on Bedford and Manhattan avenues didn't cough up a dime to pay for the display, local merchants said. 

Scrooges like McDonalds, Starbucks, Sleepy's, Radio Shack and RiteAid refuse to donate for the Christmas lights, the stores confirmed, forcing small businesses to foot the bill alone.

"All these leeches are super happy," said Nick Giannios, 49, owner of Greenpoint Floral Co. who launched an effort to bring holiday lights back to Manhattan Avenue in September for the first time since 2013.

Greenpoint merchants only made their $40,000 goal for the holiday decoration because an extremely generous lifelong neighborhood resident named Sonny Mukhopadhya chipped in $20,000 for lights on Manhattan Avenue at the last minute. 

Mukhopadhyay, 40, a real estate broker with offices on Bedford Avenue, ended up picking up the slack for the big box stores, Giannios said, who's created a naughty and a nice list of businesses who did and didn't give.

While there were plenty of smaller stores that also didn't pitch in this year, the corporate businesses are more frustrating.

"The simple reason that is that most of them are the ones that are reaping the most money," he said, pointing out that they sit on prime locations near some of the busiest corners on the block.

"They're corporate-run and these guys just don't care and there's no passion and there's no life," Giannios said. "They have no skin in the game."

Irene Wisniewska, an employee of Greenpoint Floral Co., had been in charge of door-knocking and had visited shops multiple times in order to make sure that the managers understood what was going on, she said.

"I didn't know people were going to be so negative," she said. "A few of the stores were rude. Some of them just flat out refused...and some of them just kept telling me to come back some other time."

At CitiBank a manager there said they didn't have any money, she said.

"She flat out said we have no money," she said. "Somebody should inform the public, It's a bank and they have no money."

The manager she'd spoken with deferred media requests to their corporate offices which didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. 

Wisniewska went to Starbucks more than twice, each time with the paperwork about the donations and spoke with a manager there to no avail.

A Starbucks manager declined to comment but deferred to their corporate press office, who told DNAinfo it was a misunderstanding and that managers now wanted to donate but wouldn't say how much.

A worker at Bank of America said they'd passed the request to corporate and hadn't heard back.

Luis Mera, a manager at McDonalds said his boss had decided not to donate this year. 

"I told him, 'Everybody in the neighborhood is chipping in," Mera said, but the owner had decided, "We need to focus on other things."

A worker at Sleepy's confirmed they hadn't donated, but wouldn't comment further. 

Leolisa Suarez at RadioShack had sent the request to corporate but never heard back. 

RiteAid manager Akhter Mih said corporate told him they weren't participating this year.

"It's a corporation. it's not up to me," he said. RiteAid's corporate offices didn't respond immediately to a request for further comment.

Monika Nowicka at Apple Savings Bank said they were trying to donate but had run into some trouble because the company they were supposed to make the check out to wasn't a non-profit. 

"We really want to do it," she said, adding that maybe they could get it for next year. "We're working on it."

Nearby on Bedford Avenue, now home to corporations like Apple, HSBC, Equinox, small merchants also struggled to collect the funds they needed, said Charie Bournis, 43, owner of Office 11211, who was collecting funds.

"We gave them everything and never heard back from anyone. It's just the mom and pops," he said. "All the corporate guys that are just opening, no one [gave]."

Though, at the last minute Whole Foods forked over $300, he said, which came as a pleasant surprise.

"There might be a glimmer of hope there," he said. 

Whole Foods joined a short list of corporate business along the two blocks that chipped which included Associated, CVS, CTown, 711, TD Bank, organizers said.

"We're involved in the community," said Steven Gomez, a manager at TD Bank who'd forwarded the merchant's request for funds to their corporate offices and gotten approval to donate $300.

Mukhopadhyay also pitched in with a $4,000 donation on Bedford Avenue that helped them cover costs.

Mukhopadhyay said he was saddened that at the end of the day his contributions to both blocks went to cover the costs of corporations. 

"You're a part of this community. You want to profit from [us], is it really too much to ask to do something, anything, to give back?" he said. "They've been here, they have customers here and it just seems like they don't care."

"They just don't see themselves as a part of this community."