Off Broadway Fate for Uptown Businesses

Local businesses like these along Broadway in Upper Manhattan fight rising rent prices and chain stores to stay in business. (Photo by Susan Sermoneta, via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Businesses in northern Manhattan are falling prey to rising rents, especially those located on Broadway, finds Robin Elisabeth Kilmer for Manhattan Times, who calls the situation a “revolving door” for small businesses in Washington Heights and Inwood. One employee, who only went by Katie, gave a reason for the increasing rent: “This is a great area, but the rent is too high and they’re trying to make it upscale.”

But it’s more than just rent looming over the area’s small businesses. Mom and pop shops who get priced out are often replaced by national chain stores.

Columbia Social Café and Bistro, located on Broadway between 168th and 169th Streets, has disappeared. In its place have sprung up plywood, construction workers, and a work permit for Chipotle Mexican Grill, the national chain famous for its giant burritos. The chain’s support too is monumental: between 1998 and 2006, McDonalds invested approximately $360 million in Chipotle.

“They’re going to do well here. They’re going to have a line around the block,” Katie predicted.

Peter Walsh, co-owner of Coogan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, will soon be neighbors with a Chipotle, a double-edged sword for the community. (Photo by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer via Manhattan Times)

Peter Walsh, who co-owns Coogan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, which will be next-door neighbors with Chipotle, sees the arrival of the multinational restaurant as a double-edged sword.

“I root for the luncheonette more than I root for the Starbucks, but chains do hire people from the community. I look at it that way. [But] chains in general don’t participate in the development of the community—they live off it. I hope Chipotle breaks that rule.”

Stemming off that notion of not contributing to the community, Kilmer quotes resident Ayisha Oglivie who, in a post for the Uptown Collective blog, decries landlords for pushing out local businesses: “Northern Manhattan used to have a diverse array of stores, but rising rents are impacting our choices and the culture of our community.”

Kilmer highlights one store on Broadway on the verge of closing: Abinader Grocery, named after its owner of 30 years, Ricardo Abinader, who had been in negotiations with landlord BLDG Management throughout March. The fate of the store, however, exemplifies the mutual support between small businesses and their customers. Led by the grassroots efforts of Oglivie, Abinader Grocery will be able to remain open.

Oglivie, who has been going to Abinader Grocery since she was a child, quickly made a call to arms on Facebook upon discovering that the bodega might be gone.

She urged uptowners to call the BLDG Management Company in support of Abinader Grocery.

By his estimates, Ricardo Abinader believes that 1,000 people responded and called BLDG Management last week.

After protracted negotiations for weeks, and the clearance sale underway, by Saturday, the mood at Abinader Grocery had taken on an altogether different tone. Merchandise was no longer being brought outside for sale, and merengue music helped cultivate a festive atmosphere.

Abinader said that he had been able to renegotiate his rent to $9,000 per month—which was better than he’d hoped for.

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