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Fire-displaced East Villagers plead for landlord to help find them new homes

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | They’re hoping for a kernel of kindness from Popcorn.

Former tenants of 48 E. Seventh St., joined by Councilmember Carlina Rivera, the Cooper Square Committee, family members and community supporters, rallied on Second Ave. last week across from the rubble-strewn lot where their building once stood.

After two fires struck the corner building, the latter which led to its demolition, the East Villagers have been displaced for 17 months from their homes, where some of them had lived for 60 years.

For months they have reached out to their former landlord, Faith Popcorn, in hope that she could find apartments for them in one of the three other buildings she owns nearby. But, so far, Popcorn has not been open to talking with them.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke in support of the displaced tenants as the Lopatynskys, from left, Marta, Oksana and Andrew, listened. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Popcorn a.k.a. Faith Plotkin is more well known as a prominent “futurist” marketing consultant. Her Web site describes her as “America’s foremost trend expert.” Forbes magazine dubbed her the “Nostradamus of Marketing.”

A six-alarm fire last December totally destroyed the empty building and also spread to and gutted the historic Middle Collegiate Church next door. A previous fire in February 2020 — just days before the start of the pandemic — had already displaced the 48 E. Seventh St. tenants. But they had been reassured that, after repairs and a renovation that would take about a year, they would be able to return to their homes by this fall. Then the second and worse fire hit.

Some of the displaced tenants have deep roots in the community. They include senior citizens who had lived in the building for six decades or more. One of them ran Ray’s Candy Store when it was known as Andy’s Candy Store. Others, now middle-aged, had lived in the tenement for most of their lives and raised their families there.

Bohdan Kurczak, head of the Self Reliance NY Federal Credit Union, said the former tenants deserve to live their “golden years” in their beloved East Village. (Photo by The Village Sun)

They are mostly Eastern European, Ukrainian and some Polish, part of the East Village’s surviving Ukrainian community. They say they now just want to be “treated with dignity” while dealing with the tragic loss of their homes.

The destroyed building had eight apartments. Six units were home to Eastern European families and four of these housed long-term tenants. It’s the latter who are asking Popcorn for help, hoping she can find them affordable housing in their community.

For the seniors, especially, it’s vitally important to live in their beloved East Village among their support network of friends and near the community center connected to the Self Reliance NY Federal Credit Union. As the former tenants explained, every federal credit union is required to have an affiliated community center. They socialize at the center, eat meals and play bingo there and feel connected.

The empty lot to the north of the fire-gutted Middle Collegiate Church is where 48 E. Seventh St. once stood. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Speaking at the rally, Councilmember Rivera assured that she has the former tenants’ back and is working to try to help them.

“We are a long way from rebuilding together,” she said as the burned-out hulk of Middle Collegiate Church loomed behind them. “But I have faith in our community.

“Even basic questions about the building itself remain unanswered. … They don’t deserve this,” she said of the former tenants. “And no tenant in New York City deserves this.”

According to the Fire Department, both blazes were electrical and started in a restaurant space in 48 E. Seventh St. There were no findings of arson. Popcorn is apparently under no legal obligation to help the displaced tenants. But they are hoping she will.

Privately, some of the former tenants’ family members do say that two fires within one year seems pretty unlikely. But they note they want to work with Popcorn, so are not dwelling on that.

Popcorn did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Three generations of Lopatynskys, from left, Marta, Nina and Oksana, at the Self Reliance NY community center. (Photo by The Village Sun)

John Barna, who was born in Poland, grew up in the building and with his wife, Catherine, raised two children there. He said they had a rent-regulated apartment and were paying $600 a month rent when the first fire struck. They subsequently moved around the corner and found a place for $3,500 a month, which he renegotiated down to $3,400 during the pandemic. But that’s a lot of money for them.

Locals hang out at the Self Reliance NY center on Second Ave., having a bite to eat and watching Olympic rowing on TV. At right is Ed Hyland, who used to live on E. Seventh St. He plays Dumbeldore, the chief wizard, in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on Broadway. His daughter Sarah Hyland is the oldest daughter on “Modern Family.” (Photo by The Village Sun)
Ukrainian sandwiches with extra cheese sprinkled on top. (Photo by The Village Sun)
Ukrainian jelly donuts. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Barna said he knows that Popcorn’s two buildings on E. Fifth St. have around 50 apartments, some of which may be open. He and others noted that Popcorn’s mother was previously the landlord of 48 E. Seventh St. and that, under her, there sometimes was no hot water and heat during winter. They would withhold rent until the services were restored.

Siblings Andrew and Marta Lopatynsky also grew up in 48 E. Seventh St., speaking Ukrainian at home, but now live in Queens and New Jersey, respectively. Their elderly parents, now in their 80s, were still living next to the church and paying $600 rent when the first fire broke out. They now are in Jersey near Marta and pay $3,200 in rent.

A photo captioned, “Tato in the store.” “Tato” is Ukrainian for “Dad” and the store was Andy’s Candy Store back in the 1970s. Today it’s Ray’s Candy Store, which has become Internet famous, a favorite of Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner. (Courtesy Andrew Lopatynsky)

For around 20 years, their father, Oleh Andrew Lopatynsky, owned and ran Andy’s Candy Store, at Avenue A and Seventh St.

“We had Bob Dylan come into the store when he was nothing at that point,” Marta recalled. “He ordered an egg cream.”

Another vivid memory for her of that time was when “The Godfather” filmed in the East Village.

“It was Andy’s Candy Store — egg creams, milkshakes, comic books — and he sold it to Ray,” Andrew explained. “Ray walked in, he kept throwing money at my father. He finally sold it to him.”

Their dad then became a taxi driver, with Imus, the shock jock, a frequent fare. Both kids went on to New York University, with Andrew going into finance and Marta becoming an eye surgeon.

A past president of the Self Reliance NY Federal Credit Union. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Their father now has dementia, all the more reason why he needs to be back in familiar surroundings among friends, Marta said.

One of the other apartments at 48 E. Seventh St. was occupied by Marta and Andrew’s aunt, who also hopes to return to the neighborhood. Another unit was filled by the Worochs, a mother and daughter, though it’s not clear if they are looking to return to Alphabet City.

Bohdan Kurczak, the president and C.E.O. of Self Reliance NY Federal Credit Union, said the fire-displaced tenants were part of the immigrant community that, after World War II, helped build and sustain Ukrainian institutions and businesses in the East Village, like St. George’s Church and St. George’s Academy, the credit union, the Ukrainian Museum and local butcher shops.

Brandon Kielbasa is organizing the former longtime tenants of the fire-destroyed building, hoping the landlord will find them affordable apartments in her other buildings. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Some of the former tenants were displaced by the war and now find themselves displaced once again, Kurczak noted. They deserve to be able to enjoy their “golden years” in the community they helped build, he said.

“I strongly urge that these tenants of 48 E. Seventh St. not be ignored,” he said. “They contributed so much to this East Village. Let’s get them back where they belong.”

Similarly, Brandon Kielbasa, an organizer with the Cooper Square Committee, said the former residents deserve respect.

“The tenants want to get to the meeting table [with Popcorn],” he said. “It goes beyond having a roof over your head. This is the community that they built up.”

9 Comments

  1. Gojira Gojira August 4, 2021

    Popcorn is nothing but a slumlord who does not give a rat’s behind about these people, and if she meets with them, much less helps them find alternate accomodations, I will eat my hat with extra hot sauce. Her insurance should be forced to pay for the rebuilding of Middle Collegiate Church.

  2. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street August 4, 2021

    The tenants should flood social media about her callous behavior. Maybe that would put a dent in “Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve” business and get her attention.

  3. Terry Katz Terry Katz August 5, 2021

    This terrible story can happen to any of us. If your rent-regulated apartment burns down, you are on the street. I just wonder why there have been so many really bad fires at that intersection and just a few blocks away on Broadway and 8th Street in the last few years. Shouldn’t the FDNY have stopped the fires before the buildings burned to the ground?

    • Barbara Razza Barbara Razza August 21, 2021

      Yea I’m confused as to why they feel the landlord must help them find accomodations. It’s tragic, but I read the fires started in a restaurant.

  4. Dalcini Canella Dalcini Canella August 6, 2021

    What a crushing story! As a previous tenant stated, if rent-regulated tenants lose their homes, they are on the street. Most of them can’t afford the current rents.
    What no one is addressing is the responsibility of the government in such situations. Vocal support by politicians is not enough.

    New Yorkers of low, moderate, or fixed income are in a housing crisis. We have received token action concerning the promised development of affordable housing.
    A pay-to-play society is the dream child of NY real estate and the ruin of a community of any kind. Here we have people who put sweat, blood, and tears into building a community over decades that made this area the desirable real estate it is today to people like Popcorn.

    Does it just seem like that to me, but many people who deal in the FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real estate) whose hearts turn to stone. They work hard at creating a “human” public image in the media and their circles (mostly some kind of philanthropy).
    I’m sure Jane Jacobs, Frances Golden, Jane Benedict, and others are turning in their Graves. One example of the despicable society we are. We just toss our elders in the streets, and the majority of us who care watch powerlessly.

    We also see how beholden politicians are to NY real estate. All they can do is continue upzoning with the hope of creating a few token affordable units while they give handouts to real estate (14th Street tech hub) and turn a blind eye to corruption (UHAB’s bizarre finance dealings from building to building and inflated repairs displacing poor, long-time tenants).

    • Patricia Melvin Patricia Melvin August 17, 2021

      I agree with your well-written letter. It’s shameful that this is what happens to victims of fire and it happens over and over. I don’t understand how these landlords can sleep at night.

  5. Juan Valdez Juan Valdez August 21, 2021

    So….. these people have lived basically for free for half a century. For the most part they are clearly capable of paying a reasonable rent and yet they believe they are entitled to a new building or apartment with perpetual discount rent at the expense of Ms. Plotkin because she has more than they do. Disgusting on every level.

    • Beth Sopko Beth Sopko September 4, 2021

      Most people with stabilized and controlled rents aren’t able to afford market rents. — or they’d move. I’m living below the poverty level just a few blocks to the east, and my rent is frozen to one-third of my income.

      Do you consider a market rent “reasonable?” Are you jealous of these people for getting away with paying less rent than you do? I have a friend who lives under a bridge near the FDR Drive; he was forced into a buyout by his landlord a few years ago and since then, he has been unable to find a place he can afford.

      He is working, and is looking for a second job, but even two jobs are usually not enough to support a market rent.

  6. James Dow James Dow August 21, 2021

    What’s up with this world? Why do we expect other people to solve our problems? Crazy how a tenant with two children, both graduated from New York University, one an eye surgeon and one works in finance, and they’re expecting Plotkin to take care of their parents. It’s unfortunate that they lost their home but she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Life is filled with ups and downs, you take the hits with the wins and move on. Nobody owes you anything. It’s crazy how these people EXPECT her to do for them what they aren’t willing to do for themselves. You want to live in the East Village? You can! Just don’t expect someone else to foot the bill.

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