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St. Marks Starbucks Could be 'Last Straw' for the East Village, Locals Say

 Aaron Cook opened Three Seats Espresso eight months ago on Avenue A. Now, a Starbucks is going in next door.
Aaron Cook opened Three Seats Espresso eight months ago on Avenue A. Now, a Starbucks is going in next door.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — Local business owners, residents and advocates fear a new Starbucks slated to open on the corner of St. Marks Place and Avenue A this summer could be the death knell for their quirky corner of Manhattan, driving out small businesses, raising rents and neutralizing neighborhood charm.

To combat the insurgence, the East Village Independent Merchants Association — a collective of local vendors — and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation on Thursday afternoon will host a rally opposing the coffee chain's new site across from Tompkins Square Park, which they hope will drum up support for small businesses as the neighborhood transforms around them.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people in the neighborhood that this is the last straw,” said Harry Bubbins of GVSHP, who is involved in organizing the rally. “There are some Starbucks within walking distance — why do we need another one when we have local coffee shops and bakeries?”

There are currently three Starbucks stores in the East Village, but none as far east as the latest, Bubbins explained — there are two at First Avenue, at 13th and Third Streets, and one at Second Avenue and Ninth Street.

Nearby small business owners fear the impact the chain’s move eastward will have on their operations, the local economy and on the neighborhood’s broader culture.

The currently under-construction site at 125 St. Marks Place sits on the same block as Three Seats Espresso, a combined coffee and barber shop that opened just eight months ago. The founder and owner of that shop says he’s still getting his new business off the ground and is worried about the slivers of revenue the chain could take away from him.

“I’m pretty confident I’ll retain most of the locals, but anyone who’s kind of passing by is probably more likely to get drawn to the branding because it’s such a well known brand,” said Aaron Cook, who plans to attend Thursday’s rally.

“It’s not such a massive area of foot traffic, so any foot traffic we do get we really need to capitalize on.”

Others fear the chain is likely to drive up rent, which in turn could push out vendors with more shallow pockets when their leases are up.

“When these places come in, they come in with really high rent and it affects all of us on Avenue A,” said Chris Pugliese, owner of Tompkins Square Bagels. “When our lease is up, all of a sudden Starbucks is paying $35- to $40,000. Suddenly, my $12,000 isn’t good enough.

“I have 15 years here and I think I have nine left. I know when my lease is up I am done,” he continued, noting he received some pressure to move out when Jared Kushner bought the building in 2013 but it has since eased up.

“They’ve already tried to evict me, they’ve tried to buy me out. Places like mine, they just want it gone.”

Pugliese added that he supports other local businesses by using them as suppliers. The closure of his shop would have a domino effect on other vendors, he said.

Then there’s the matter of neighborhood character. Starbucks is just the latest big-name chain to announce its arrival in the neighborhood — Target and Trader Joe’s both plan to launch new stores within a block of each other on 14th Street.

Overwhelming concern from vendors about the influence of those chains pushed the local community board to more aggressively pursue a "special zoning district" aimed at protecting small businesses by capping storefront size and reducing the number of chain stores allowed per block. 

READ MORE:

East Village Merchants Seek Protections as National Chains Move Into Area

East Village Retail District Would Wreck Bars and Local Biz, Group Says

East Village Special Zoning District Must Protect the Bowery, Advocates Say

The arrival of Starbucks on Avenue A adds to the urgency, argued the business owners and rally organizers, who stressed the rally was more to promote those efforts than to shut down the new Starbucks.

“As a person who lives here, I definitely don’t want to see a Starbucks or a Dunkin’ Donuts or any of those chains, which to me — they don’t stand for quality, they just stand for mass-produced sh—t,” said Cook.

“If the [rent] prices go up, then not only will the bigger, larger companies be able to move into this area, which totally transforms the East Village,” he continued.

“If it’s gonna be more and more like that, the area is finished basically — it might as well be another Midtown.”

A Starbucks spokesman said the company was designing the new store to reflect the unique character of the “Lower East Village.”

“We are proud to bring a new Starbucks store to the Lower East Village later this summer,” said the spokesman, who would identify himself only as Jonathan. “In addition to offering employment to more than 20 partners (employees), this store will provide a gathering place for the community and will be designed to reflect the uniqueness of the neighborhood.”

The spokesman added that the company’s partners are “involved in community service” and that the store donates all leftovers through its FoodShare program in partnership with Feeding American and City Harvest.

Construction on the Starbucks store is already underway, Department of Buildings records show.

The rally against the Starbucks will take place Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of St. Marks Place and Avenue A.