By Carmo Moniz
After NYU pledged to save a Morton Williams supermarket located on university-owned property that was at risk of being redeveloped, many in the neighborhood are worried that the university will not follow through on its commitment. More than 7,000 people have signed a petition in support of keeping the store in the area.
Joined by several local politicians, NYU president Andrew Hamilton said on Nov. 1 that he would ensure that the supermarket, which is located at the intersection of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place, can either stay in its location or be relocated nearby. The statement comes after a yearslong battle between NYU and its Greenwich Village neighbors over its many expansion and development projects.
Frustrated residents came together to form Save Our Supermarket — an organization dedicated to preserving the store — on Oct. 15. Since then, the group created and circulated the petition and have been tabling outside of the supermarket, gathering signatures. An online petition was also recently launched, which has garnered over 100 signatures.
Judith Callet, one of the group’s leaders, said she believes the petition influenced the university’s decision to commit to saving the supermarket, adding that she hopes that the Morton Williams will remain at its current location. But Callet does not have much faith in the university to keep its promise.
“NYU has amnesia — they’ve made promises to the community, and never followed through on it,” Callet said. “We have the elderly and people who work in the area come, there’s a hot food and a cold food bar, people get their dinners there. It’s a central location.”
The university had previously considered providing space for the supermarket inside its newly constructed 181 Mercer Street building, a billion-dollar development that will add classrooms, residences and community areas to NYU’s campus. The building was originally a part of former NYU president John Sexton’s mostly abandoned “NYU 2031” expansion plan. The university, however, ultimately decided not to include space for the supermarket in the final design for the building.
During the approval process for the 181 Mercer project in 2012, NYU made a deal with the New York City School Construction Authority, allowing it to claim use of the Morton Williams lot for a public school before the end of 2014. The deadline was extended twice until 2021, when the authority told the university that it would go forward with the school’s construction, putting the supermarket’s existence in jeopardy.
Although Morton Williams signed a new 20-year lease for the lot in April, it has a demolition clause which will be activated if the university chooses to repurpose the lot.
According to a Morton Williams representative, if plans to construct the public school proceed, the supermarket’s lease requires that NYU give it a year’s notice to vacate the plot.
Avi Kaner, who co-owns the Morton Williams chain, which operates a number of locations across New York City, said that the company appreciates the support it has received from the Village community.
“We are grateful to the thousands of our neighbors who have signed the grassroots petition to save their supermarket,” Kaner said. “The West Village thrives on its diversity of opinions — in this case, the community solidly stands united to ensure this essential service is preserved.”
Reprinted with permission from the Washington Square News. Carmo Moniz is Deputy News Editor. Photo: Google maps.