Greenwich Village Morton Williams must be saved

US

The Morton Williams supermarket has served the needs of the Greenwich Village, NoHo, SoHo and East Village communities at its current site on Bleecker St. for more than 60 years. The present threat to its continued existence, and to that of an adjoining community garden, exacerbates the widespread crisis of confidence by the public in those institutions established to serve the public good: in this case the university and our city government.

The foundation for any world-class teaching and research university like NYU consists of the university’s respect and credibility for truth. A university cannot disregard truth in its public representations to the community without calling into question the legitimacy of its entire enterprise.

City government best performs its role when it creatively facilitates outcomes which satisfy a multitude of pressing needs. In this case it doesn’t even take much creativity for the city to engender a triple win: for the community’s vital supermarket; for a public school, and; for NYU’s students and faculty.

More than a decade ago, NYU proposed a massive development in Greenwich Village. At every step of the land use review process, NYU loudly affirmed that it would include the store as part of its redevelopment plan. In the final iteration presented to the community and local elected officials NYU’s administration included the supermarket in the so-called Zipper building that ran from Mercer St. to Houston.

NYU reconfirmed this inclusion in President John Sexton’s summary of the full rezoning proposal submitted to the City Planning Commission — a plan supported by the Planning Commission on June 6, 2012.

NYU proposed moving the supermarket from its current location to Mercer St. because, as part of the negotiations with the city, the university agreed to give it the option to acquire the Bleecker St. lot for a public school.

The School Construction Authority has stated that it will decide whether to exercise its option by the end of this calendar year. However, at every step in the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), the preservation of the relocated store remained front and center, right up until the moment that it was mysteriously removed as a requirement.

In a project the size of the NYU 2031 plan, the actual legally binding document is not the land use resolution itself, but a restrictive declaration, a document drafted weeks after the public ULURP process ended. However, the declaration, drafted by NYU’s lawyers but approved by the city, removed any binding commitment from NYU to preserve our neighborhood market.

Throughout ULURP, the city joined with NYU in repeatedly assuring the community that the supermarket would remain on the superblock, the oversized block created in the early 1960s as part of an urban development plan which explicitly included a supermarket. They both failed to live up to their commitments.

During the pandemic, New Yorkers referred to supermarkets and their workers as essential. The city should show it means what it says. In an area which once contained three full-service supermarkets, only Morton Williams remains. During storms and hurricanes, it remained open 24/7. During the pandemic, it made deliveries to COVID-stricken residents. It provides a lifeline for those who lack feasible alternatives for their food, especially the elderly and physically challenged.

We are now calling on NYU and City Hall to keep faith with the public by adhering to their guarantees that the supermarket would remain on its current superblock without interruption.

No feasible alternative site for the supermarket in the vicinity exists, as a result of NYU’s failure to include the supermarket in its Mercer St. building. However, very feasible alternative sites for the school do exist nearby. Those sites include space on NYU’s campus, for which NYU would continue to receive rent it would otherwise lose from the current supermarket site. Locating the public school on NYU’s campus would allow for involvement of NYU’s School of Education in the new facility, resulting in the triple win: for the community, future public school students, and NYU’s Education faculty and students.

The time has come for government officials to use the many tools they have to hold NYU’s administration accountable for their promises to the community. We are calling on the city and the New York University administration to honor the commitment made to the entire Greenwich Village community to the continuous operation of a full-service supermarket on the block where it currently sits.

 Let’s all work together in good faith to find the best of the available alternative school sites. Our community supermarket needs to stay right where it is, serving its community from its decades-long familiar site on Bleecker St.

Gerson, a former City Council member, and Callet are the co-chairs of the Save our Store campaign.

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