Save Our Supermarkets
Morton Williams vs. NYU and NYC
BY ROGER PARADISO
The battle between Morton Williams Supermarket versus New York University (NYU) and New York City has reached a feverish pitch. I waited in front of Morton Williams while the crowd slowly formed at a recent rally. There was a “Save Our Supermarket” sign in front of the store. A few local unions had gathered. Morton Williams has hired union members who work at this community market. All of them said they love working at the store because there is a family feeling inside.
The crowd was building up to an estimated 200 people as Alan J. Gerson prepared to speak. The crowd was warming up with him as they shouted:
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Morton Williams will not go!
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Morton Williams will not go!”
Moments before 4 p.m., the spirited crowd walked up LaGuardia towards NYU’s administrative offices high upstairs in the salmon-colored Bobst Building in front of Washington Square Park singing:
“Morton Williams is our market, It shall not be moved,
Like our Garden planted by our street side, it shall not be moved.”
When they arrived at their destination, the crowd was spirited but well behaved. NYU security personnel were also polite and understanding as the sidewalk filled up. Speakers of note were Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Village Preservation Society, CD1 District City Councilman Christopher Marte and the Community Garden representative, Ellen Reznick, who spoke passionately about saving the market and the gardens.
I spoke to both Alan and Ellen days before the rally to understand what was going on. NYU and NYC want to put a school where the market is and Morton Williams wants to stay as it was agreed to years before.
Alan is a former member of the City Council who once represented CD1 which includes the Greenwich Village area. He grew up in the same neighborhood as Morton Williams Market and has a special appreciation for this market. As an attorney, Alan helped draft the “Save Our Supermarket” petition which garnered 8,000 signatures.
“Morton Williams is an essential business that keeps the neighborhood from being a food desert,” he said. “The store is open 24/7 and provides seniors, people who are home bound, students and faculty from NYU and many families with fresh cooked meals and access to food. The market has stayed open during hurricanes and other weather events. During Covid, it was truly tested as an essential service when it delivered to many of our neighbors who were locked down in their apartments.”
Alan added, “Nobody is looking to get rid of this kind of supermarket. But for some reason they want to put a school there. It seems the City and NYU can’t find a solution to keep the supermarket where it is and put the school in another location.”
Ellen is a 20-year gardener and member of the LaGuardia Corner Gardens. She is worried about the survival of the beautiful gardens in front of the market.
“Any construction on that site would have a negative impact on the garden and could destroy it,” she said. ‘The garden provides one of the only green spaces in the area where one can come and sit quietly and observe nature. I am also a community member who understands the vital importance of a supermarket in the neighborhood.”
Ellen added, “The garden is constantly evolving with the seasons and provides an island of green for the birds and pollinators, playing an important role in the environment. We have regular daily visitors and many tourists marvel at the beauty of this anomaly in the Village. We offer meditation classes as well as music and art events. The garden is a magnet to children who frequently become involved with our monarch butterfly program. Simply observing the garden is a calming as well as a learning experience.”
The city has set a deadline of the end of 2023 to determine if the supermarket closes, remains at its present location or is moved to the Mercer Street side on NYU’s massive superstructure constructed several years back. As Alan says, “It sure seems cost effective to keep the market where it is now and to find another location for the school.”
“For the city or NYU to think that using the garden for two or three years as a construction site with the promise of recreating the garden when all is done is ignorant. A garden is an evolving place and ours has been lovingly cared for over 40 years with trees and perennials that have matured in that time. Community gardens give so much, at the members expense, to the neighborhood and we ask nothing in return but to enjoy and respect what we have created,” said Ellen.
I interviewed Avi Kaner, one of the owners of the Supermarket, this past summer. He explained, “We are longtime members of the community. Our grand opening day was the week of 9/11. We kept the store open and fed thousands of first responders. During the Covid pandemic our store stayed open 24/7 and was a lifeline to the community. We support many local schools, organizations, and student groups.”
When I asked Ellen what she would tell the city and NYU, she said, “I would tell them that community gardens are essential places for the members lucky enough to have plots and for the visitors who avail themselves of the oasis that they provide.”
Once again, the citizens speak to NYU and NYC. Will they listen to what they say this time?
As the peaceful but moving rally was wrapping up, we heard some people chanting:
NYU make our day,
Let our supermarket stay!
NYU make our day,
Let our supermarket stay!