BY VILLAGE SUN STAFF | Local residents, union supermarket staff, gardeners, preservationists, a politician and some political hopefuls all joined the Sept. 27 march to save Greenwich Village’s Morton Williams supermarket.
Around 175 strong, they kicked off at the essential-service supermarket, at the corner of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place, then wended their way up LaGuardia Place to New York University’s Bobst Library building, where N.Y.U.’s administration offices are located.
As they marched, they sang protest lyrics to the tune of the civil rights and labor song “We Shall Not Be Moved”: “Mort Williams is our market, it shall not be moved / Mort Williams is our market, it shall not be moved / Like our garden planted by our street side / It shall not be moved.”
They also chanted, “Hey! Hey! — Ho! Ho! — Morton Williams will not go!”
The city’s Department of Education and School Construction Authority have until the end of this year to say if they want to build a new public school at the longtime supermarket site. The idea of co-locating a school and the market has been floated. But Save Our Supermarket, which is leading the effort to save the Morton Williams, says co-location is a no-go since there would be no market for at least three years as the site was being rebuilt.
A software engineer in the crowd who only gave his first name, Kim, blasted his alma mater for shirking its pledge to provide space for the full-service supermarket on the same block — in its new Paulson Center, at 181 Mercer St. — if a new public school displaced it.
“It’s unbelievable to me that New York University could be so deaf to its community — it’s supposed community,” he scoffed. “It’s really a hit to the quality of life for thousands of citizens and hundreds, possibly thousands, of N.Y.U. students and at least hundreds of senior citizens and people with no other options. It wouldn’t exactly be a food desert — but a desert of full choice that Morton Williams gives us.”
Kim said he would not patronize the new Wegmans market opening on Astor Place.
“Why bother?” he shrugged with annoyance. “Morton Williams is around the corner, 24/7. There’s nothing like it.”
Wegmans will only be open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Also, as opposed to Morton Williams, Wegmans is a nonunion shop.
Speakers at the rally to save the market included Andrew Berman, director of Village Preservation; Councilmember Christopher Marte; Judith Callet, the co-leader of S.O.S.; Noho activist Jeanne Wilcke; union representatives; and a member of the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, which would also be impacted by any construction project at the adjacent market site.
“There are other locations for the school,” Callet declared.
S.O.S.’s other co-leader, former Councilmember Alan Gerson, gave a rousing speech at the start of the event, but had to leave early.
Marte energize the crowd with his remarks. Afterward, he stressed to The Village Sun that it’s clear where the blame lies.
“We know who the enemy is here — it’s N.Y.U. who created this situation, that said a supermarket would go there [in the Paulson Center].
“Today represents a unified front — residents, community gardeners, labor,” he said. “We’re going to keep on fighting until N.Y.U. delivers on all their promises. They’re not going to divide us any longer. We have to get N.Y.U. to the table to pressure them to fulfill their promise.”
Asked if he supported co-location, Marte said it’s one of three options, along with N.Y.U. providing space for the market in the Paulson Center or at another location.
Also there were District Leader Vittoria Fariello and former political candidates Allie Ryan and Juan Pagan. Ryan has run twice against Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Pagan sought to challenge Rivera as a Republican in the upcoming November general election but was disqualified from getting on the ballot. Rivera did not attend the rally. Due to Council redistricting, the Morton Williams will be in her district as of Jan. 1.
Both Ryan and Pagan said saving the supermarket is a top priority. Ryan said N.Y.U. should buy a vacant local former Catholic school — such as either St. Brigid or Immaculate Conception, both in the East Village — since it reneged on its promise to provide a space for the supermarket. The market plot is worth $65 million, according to Community Board 2, so that should be what N.Y.U. spends to acquire an off-site school, Ryan said.
As for the Morton Williams, its owner, Avi Kaner, said he has scoured the neighborhood for a suitable alternative site for the market and that there are none to be found. N.Y.U. not long ago gave the market a long-term lease for the site, though it contains a demolition clause.
Asked for comment on whether N.Y.U. would provide an alternative space — as in, not at the Morton Williams corner — for the hypothetical school, if needed, university spokesperson John Beckman said it’s a complex issue.
“This is an issue with several moving parts,” he said. “N.Y.U. is continuing to work with key stakeholders as efforts are made to address the complexities.”