No 7-Eleven group spreads awareness about neighborhood bodegas

UPDATE: 6:30 Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. 7-Eleven director of corporate communications Margaret Chabris said that not all Manhattan 7-Elevens were closed during Hurricane Sandy, and some did provide services for residents. She also cited 7-Eleven’s $450,000 contribution to Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.

On Feb. 2, a group of 60 East Village residents toured local stores and restaurants as a part of the Bodega Walk in an ongoing protest against the expansion plans of 7-Eleven franchises in the neighborhood.

The No 7-Eleven group, which organized the event, is rallying against an announcement of plans by 7-Eleven to open 100 new stores in Manhattan by 2017. They wanted to spread awareness both to East Village inhabitants and to local bodegas who are unaware of the plans.

“The purpose of the bodega walk is to connect with the people and businesses in our community and make them aware 7-Eleven is planning a strategic, corporate takeover of our neighborhood,” said Liberation Iannillo, the social media strategist of No 7-Eleven.

Iannillo explained that 7-Eleven openings choke out local convenient stores, bodegas and delis, and have a negative impact on the character of the East Village.

“People travel to the East Village because it’s a unique, culturally rich, diverse neighborhood,” he said. “They don’t travel here for Big Gulps and Slurpees.”

View Bodega Walk in a larger map

However, Margaret Chabris, a native of Greenwich Village and director of corporate communications for 7-Eleven, said 7-Eleven convenient stores can provide a valid service to the neighborhood.

“Our goal is to meet the convenience needs of people in that immediate trade area,” she said. “We believe that area is under -served. So we would hope to bring something clean, modern, efficient, yet something that the community can benefit from. We also have a special downtown, urban format for our stores that lends itself to Manhattan.”

Chabris also cited the fact that each 7-Eleven, although part of the franchise, is individually owned, and therefore the company does provide support for small business owners.

However, Robert Galinsky, a bodega walk organizer, said alt-hough each store may be independent, they are still under the guise of a larger corporation, which causes a disconnect with the store and local community.

“During Hurricane Sandy, the bodegas were open and giving away coffee and giving away food,” he said.  “The 7-Elevens were closed. It’s part of that corporate mentality, ‘We better check with corporate headquarters to find out.’ When you have an individual bodega, you check with yourself, you check with your heart, you check with your community. That’s what this is about.”

Eileen Myles, another organizer of the No 7-Eleven group and NYU English professor, further explained how franchise stores undermine a community.

“They don’t stand with the neighborhood on summer nights or in disaster,” she said. “They don’t hold your keys for friends, give you credit, know you and your pet for years … Bodegas and their employees are our neighbors and our friends.”

Loretta Owens, a freshman in the Silver School of Social Work, said that although she favors smaller stores, she sometimes finds their locations inconvenient. Still, she supports the No 7-Eleven movement.

“I feel as though communities have the right to feel upset and rally against the construction of 7-Elevens because that promotes the mass integration of commercial stores which tend to drive out smaller businesses,” Owens said.

No 7-Eleven is planning on hosting bodega walks every two weeks to continue spreading awareness. The next one will be on Feb. 16 at noon.

Emily Bell is deputy city/state editor. Veronica Carchedi is city/state editor. Email them at [email protected]