New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Village residents rally at Bobst to save local Morton Williams

The protest was the latest effort by local residents to save the supermarket, which is at risk of being demolished and replaced with a public school.
Julia Smerling
On Sept. 27, activists, local residents and union members petitioned NYU not to close their supermarket. (Julia Smerling for WSN)

A group of local residents calling for NYU to save a supermarket on university-owned land took the fight to its front door on Wednesday, the latest development in a yearslong battle for the grocery store.

Protesters gathered outside Bobst Library to call for a local Morton Williams, located at the intersection of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place, to be allowed to stay in its current location. Currently, the space might be used by the New York City School Construction Authority — which oversees public school construction in the city — to build a new school, displacing the supermarket. 

The rally was organized by Save Our Supermarket, a community group that has been protesting to keep the store and the neighboring LaGuardia Corner Gardens on the lot for years. The group is now pushing for what it described as a “win-win-win” solution, where the supermarket would stay in its current location and NYU would lease land to the SCA elsewhere, possibly in partnership with the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

Alan Gerson wearing a green t-shirt with texts that read “S.O.S. Save our Supermarket” speaks to a crowd with a megaphone.
Alan Gerson. (Julia Smerling for WSN)

“It doesn’t make sense to tear down a supermarket just to relocate it,” Alan Gerson, a former city council member and Save Our Supermarket co-chair, said in an interview. “There is no feasible location, we’ve looked into it. The feasible location was the Mercer Street building.”

The fight for the store began with former NYU president John Sexton’s now mostly deserted 2031 expansion plan, which included a version of the recently completed Paulson Center. During the approvals process for the Paulson Center in 2012, the university came to an agreement with the SCA, giving it the option to take the lot on Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place by the end of 2014. 

The SCA asked for the deadline to be extended twice to the end of 2021, when the authority announced it would use the space for a school. NYU had previously considered including space for the supermarket in what is now the Paulson Center, but those plans were eventually dropped. The university has said it did not keep a space for the supermarket in its new building because it did not believe the SCA would end up using the lot.

A woman wearing a green shirt and a navy blue hat holding a sign that says “SAVE OUR SUPERMARKET.”
(Julia Smerling for WSN)

After facing pressure from local residents and advocates, NYU promised to keep the supermarket at or near its current location in November, alongside Greenwich Village politicians including state Assemblymember Deborah Glick and state Sens. Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanaugh. 

“This is an issue with several moving parts; NYU is continuing to work with key stakeholders as efforts are made to address the complexities,” university spokesperson John Beckman wrote in a statement to WSN.

Residents are also concerned about the community garden, which would need to be destroyed to be used as a staging area for the construction if plans for the school move forward. Eileen Ain, a longtime gardener, hopes the garden will be left alone.

“Lose the garden? I think I’d want to leave New York,” Ain said. “It’s been a staple in my life.”

Although the supermarket recently renewed its 20-year lease with the university, the lease has a demolition clause that would only require NYU to give Morton Williams one year’s notice to leave the lot. Gerson said he believes relocating the supermarket would be an inadequate solution on the part of NYU.

A group of protesters standing in front of the Bobst Library holding signs that read “Local 3.3.8. R.W.D.S.U. Slash U.F.C.W.” and “Union Strong Local 3.4.2.” City Council Member Christopher Marte stands in the middle of the crowd wearing a beige suit.
City Councilmember Christopher Marte stands in the middle in a brown suit. (Julia Smerling for WSN)

At the rally, City Councilmember Christopher Marte, whose district contains the lot, stressed the importance of the grocery store and garden to the community. The lot will soon be represented by Councilmember Carlina Rivera due to redistricting planned for later this year.

“If you ever walked inside or outside or stood in front of the Morton Williams, you know it’s more than just a supermarket — it’s a community center,” Marte said in his speech. “Whether you’re a student at NYU or you’re someone that’s lived in the village for over 60 years, you go there not just to shop. You go there to hear what’s happening, to pick up your copy of The Village Sun, to hear about rallies and fights and community board meetings.”

Protesters raise signs that read “Local 3.3.8. Bettering The Lives of Our Members and All Working People.”
(Julia Smerling for WSN)

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 338 union, which represents workers at the Morton Williams, also attended the rally. The store’s workforce is fully unionized, and the union has allied with Save Our Supermarket in the interest of protecting members’ jobs.

Advocates are also concerned that the store’s removal could deprive the community of necessary resources. The Morton Williams is one of the more affordable supermarkets in the surrounding area, making it an important resource for many local residents.

“There are many elderly and disabled people who live in all of these buildings who depend upon this supermarket, and there are no feasible alternatives,” said Jesse Kasowitz, a former NYU faculty member and longtime Greenwich Village resident. “That would create a food desert for very many people.”

Update, Sept. 28: This story has been updated with a statement from an NYU spokesperson.

Contact Hope Pisoni at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Julia Smerling
Julia Smerling, Photo Editor
Julia Smerling is a first-year studying photography and imaging, and is one of WSN’s Photo Editors. She is from West Palm Beach, Florida, and you can find her writing poetry, overly obsessing about films, painting art on jeans and always having her headphones on. Also, she’s secretly Peter Parker. You can reach her on Instagram @juliasmerling or her art account @jul3sarchive (where mostly her mom hypes her up and likes her posts so please give it a look — it's becoming embarrassing at this point.)

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  • K

    Kathryn AdismanSep 28, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    Alan Gerson has it right: “it doesn’t make sense to tear down a supermarket to locate it elsewhere.” If NYU pushes this through – I predict that it will be the end of NYU’s expansion. It’s a No Win for anyone in the long run.